Speaking of the pain his community is going through, The Rev. Mel Kawakami, senior pastor of the Newtown United Methodist Church, told journalist Art McClanahan, “The church becomes the community to hold that pain and to allow people to feel that pain.”
In a society that seeks diversion and palliatives, denial and avoidance, often to mask pain or run from it, these words are more than pastoral, they are prophetic. As some call for the arming of teachers and the potential use of even more lethal force, Rev. Kawakami issues an invitation to bring your pain into a house where it can be expressed, and shared.
This isn’t a defensive invitation to lock and load. It’s an invitation to open up and unload. Give up the fear, the toxic anger, and, yes, even grief; the whole burdened load we feel when we think of the tragic loss of these sweet, innocent young ones and those tender adults who died caring for them–all for whom we grieve–and give it over to a community who believe that in God’s grace we can absorb the fear and pain, take a share of the load and get through together.
I’ve been thinking all day of the words of the Martina McBride song, “Love’s the Only House Big Enough for all the Pain in the World.” “The pain’s gotta go someplace, so come on down to my house,” McBride sings. It’s the song of the church, and the invitation of God. “Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak softly and tenderly to Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 40:1,2) ”Come to me, all of you who are weary and loaded down with burdens, and I will give you rest,” says Jesus. (Matthew 11:28)
Anne Lamott writes in her wonderful reflection on prayer, Help Thanks Wow, “Love falls to earth, rises from the ground, pools around the feet of the afflicted. Love pulls people back to their feet. Bodies and souls are fed. New blades of grass grow from charred soil. The sun rises.”
And so it is in this house. A house whose people believe this love beyond understanding comes to us in human form–in Jesus who meets us with open arms, knows our pain, shares it, and shoulders it. When I hear the bells toll on Friday morning, I will say a prayer for those families in grief, I will remember the lives that ended so violently, and I will give thanks for a loving God whose house is big enough for all the pain.