What do you say when there are no words to say?
In the face of a tragedy, clichés melt away. Or should. I’ve been struck by how many wise people have wisely said the right response to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School is silence. Pastor and author Eugene Peterson recommended such silence in an NPR interview. Silence is just right.
But what do you say when you need to say something? When you must speak, what words do you use? What do you say at a public memorial service?
President Obama began his remarks by quoting from 2 Corinthians 4, “To all the families, first responders, to the community of Newtown, clergy, guests, scripture tells us, “Do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly, we are being renewed day by day. For light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all, so we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven not built by human hands.”
He graciously took on the role of “mourner in chief”—a role that, at the interfaith memorial service, required words. And for that, he turned to time tested words from St. Paul and Jesus, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”
Both sets of words are beautifully chosen. They are words of faith; words that point toward grace in the face of horror.
Bloggers on websites for atheists asked that they also be remembered in a nation’s grieving, and with religious-free words. Fair enough. But for many, in a time like this, labels like “catholic” and “protestant,” “religious” and “non-religious,” “republican” and “democrat” fade away. Instead, we are all a kind of parent of the deceased. We are, in a way, united in our grief, and our longing for healing. So it was no surprise, that other participants in Newtown’s interfaith service turned to the psalms. Rabbi Shaul of Congregation Adath Israel read Psalm 46. “God is our refuge and our strength, an ever present help in trouble…” Rev. Kathleen E. Adams-Shepard, rector of Trinity Episcopal, read from Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want…”
Silence is wise. So very wise. Psalm 62 begins, “My soul waits in silence for God alone…” But when the time comes to speak, the time-tested words of the psalms give direction. We dare speak their words. Not because we are wise, or because we need a religious cliché, or because we think “we have something to say.” But because, as generations have known, the psalms are God’s own words. They voice divinely guided silence, and lament, and longing, and hope.
This is the program for the interfaith service:
*Welcome by Matthew Crebbin, senior minister of the Newtown Congregational Church.
*Psalm 46 by Rabbi Shaul Praver of Congregation Adath Israel.
*Prayer for those we lost by Rev. Mel Kawakami, senior minister of Newtown United Methodist.
*Psalm 23 by the Rev. Kathleen E. Adams-Shepard, rector of Trinity Episcopal.
*Prayer for the children by the Rev. Jim Solomon, pastor of the New Hope Community Church.
*Reading of the Koran and a prayer by Jason Graves and Muadh Bhavnagarwala of the Al Hedaya Islamic Center.
*Prayers for the emergency responders by the Rev. Jane Sibley, minister at Newtown United Methodist.
*Reading and a prayer from the Baha’i tradition by Dr. John Woodall, leader of Baha’i Faith Community.
*Prayer for counselors and caregivers by the Rev. Leo McIlrath, chaplain at the Lutheran Home of Southbury.
*Scripture: Romans 8 by the Rev. Pastor Jack Tanner, minister and elder of the Newtown Christian Church.
*First Selectwoman Patricia Llodra
*Conn. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy
*President Barack Obama
*Prayer for our community by the Rev. Msgr Robert Weiss, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church.
*Blessing by the Rev. Rob Mossis, vicar of Christ the King Lutheran Church
*Closing music by Fiona Smith Sutherland.