Remembering Sandy Hook

Remembering Sandy HookOn Friday, December 13, 2013, the City of Sunrise held its second annual remembrance for the victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting where 26 children and adults were killed in their elementary school. December 14 marked the one-year anniversary of this tragedy.

Mayor Michael Ryan encouraged residents to unite and build bonds of fellowship and hope. Ryan stated, “Tonight, we are joined together in an unbreakable embrace of peace, compassion, love and hope of a better day.” He invited attendees to shake hands with their neighbor, give them a hug or deliver their own personal message.

The evening was symbolic of the importance of invoking the spirit of peace, grace, compassion, and hope in our cities and in our nation. In an era when manger scenes are being replaced by Santa Claus, the Ten Commandments are being removed from public places, “Merry Christmas” is being swapped for “Happy Holidays”, and some are calling for “In God We Trust” to be removed from our coins, the City of Sunrise is uniting residents across their differences to focus on the essential spiritual values that make us whole.

God with us, God in us
Searching for answers for why Sandy Hook happened can often deepen, rather than heal, the wounds. There were many reasons that should have invoked concern regarding the gunman – mental illness, a love of violent video games, isolation, and access to his mother’s gun. These facts offer no peace. We want an end to violence, relief from fear, safety for those we love. We are vulnerable; there is no guarantee that we will not lose a loved one or be hurt in this life. Often, we think of peace as the absence of conflict and violence. In reality, peace is the presence of love, compassion, grace, unity, fellowship, and forgiveness. It is only in the midst of suffering and fear that we can truly show love, cultivate peace, and forgive the unforgivable.

James 4:18 says, “Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear.” What does “such love” mean? The preceding verses offer insight. James 4:15-17 states, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” Grace, love, hope and peace are not tied to our circumstances. They are tied to our God, Emmanuel – God with us. Or as James says, God in us.

The promise
God has promised us his presence and he is the prince of peace. As images that invoke fear, despair and discord pass through our media and our minds, we must look heavenward and remember God’s promise of his presence. Deuteronomy 31:6 reminds us to “be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Emily McGee, pastor at St. Peters United Methodist Church remarks, “Reflecting on the tragedy of so many children cut down so violently on that morning in mid-December makes me remember the darker side of the story that we tell this time of year.” She shared Matthew 2:16-18 that documented Rachel’s great mourning and weeping after experiencing the injustice of Herod’s order to kill all boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity. McGee continued, “And Rachel is right. There is no consolation for the loss; but the promise we hold – because of Christmas – shines a light in the darkness.

It is here, in the midst of our pain and struggle that the hope of the good news awaits. Is love worth it when those we love can be so easily taken away? Love always comes at a price, but our call as Christians is to pronounce with our lives that love is always worth it. This is the gospel message of Christ. Circumstances, violence and injustice may endeavor to break our hearts and even our bodies, but nothing can extinguish the light within us. We must choose to endure, to forgive, and to love – just as Jesus did.

Let peace rule in your heart
What is the point of our Christian faith if it doesn’t change us, our families, and our communities? What might the world, in the midst of injustice, suffering and violence, see in us that brings hope, comfort, joy and peace? Colossians 3 calls us to rid ourselves of our earthly nature (i.e. malice, rage, slander, lies, immorality) and put on our new self that is made in the image of God. Paul says, “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Colossians 3:10-11).

Colossians 3:12-16 reminds us of our call as Christians. It says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”

Mayor Ryan closed the Sandy Hook remembrance ceremony saying, “We must always remember each of the victims for their lives and the untimely deaths of those at Sandy Hook and so many others must never be in vain. Instead, their spirit represents each of us. We remember, ‘but for the grace of God go I’ [attributed to John Bradford]. We will never let such catastrophes destroy our faith in peace, hope and love. We can never give in to the cynical, destructive hatred of those who would attempt to darken our hearts. It remains important for us as a community that we hold each other tight, share the comfort of our unbreakable bonds of peace and love, and send a strong spiritual message out into the world that these and so many others were our children, our friends, our neighbors our family.”

As we embark on a new year, may the world know we are Christians by our love, and may it shine beyond our church walls and into our homes, organizations, schools and cities.

What’s the worst tragedy you’ve experienced in your own life, and how did God sustain you through it. Share your story with us by emailing [email protected].

Dr. Terry Morrow is an assistant dean and assistant professor at Nova Southeastern University and has a Ph.D. in conflict resolution. She can be reached at [email protected].

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