Summary: This is not the time for the true church to be silent in the face of people’s grief and uncertainty
“The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth.” Psalm 145:18
April 23, 2007 was exactly one week after the now infamous massacre of 32 people at Virginia Tech. I turned on the news that morning, as is my habit, to listen to what’s going on around the world while I prepare for my day.
At 9:45 AM eastern time, 7:45 AM mountain time where I live, a vigil began on that campus, attended by students, teachers, staff, family, friends, all pausing to pay homage to those who died.
A bell was rung once for each of the murder victims, tolling slowly. I didn’t time the tones but it seemed like there was approximately a minute between each one. Aside from that mournful bell the site was silent. White balloons, also one for each victim, were released into the sky to coincide with the ringing of the bell.
After the first few minutes the news program shrunk the campus scene to the corner of the screen and went on with the news, but in honor of the ceremony taking place there they let the camera run on it as they talked of other things.
So the bell continued to toll. One ring. And the newscaster spoke of another school that had to be evacuated due to a bomb threat that turned out to be a hoax.
Another ring. A news announcer gave the Dow Jones report for the day. Another ring, as they talked about someone being arrested for something.
I had stopped listening and begun focusing on something else. But in the background, until I finally got around to turning off the television, there was the slow but steady tone of that bell. One ring for each victim of a terrible, senseless rampage conducted by a deranged and hopeless man.
They had announced that these folks were holding a “Moment of Silence” for their friends and loved ones, although due to the nature of the incident they did not know what the actual time duration of that “Moment of Silence” would be.
Now I know that calling for a moment of silence in a public gathering to honor someone recently deceased is not a new thing. I have no idea when it may have first been adopted in history, nor where. I only know that I myself have been in gatherings in past years where a moment of silence was called for, and with everyone else in the place I bowed my head and waited for the person who had the floor to break the silence and continue on with the proceedings.
Well, now I am a preacher of the good news of Jesus Christ. During the years that I have been in this role our nation has experienced events so dramatic and shocking, that just the mention of the location in which they took place evokes vivid memories and mental images of disaster.
Waco, Texas. Columbine High School. Oklahoma City. The World Trade Center (or the ‘Twin Towers’). And now, Virginia Tech.
The administrators of that school determinedly and very appropriately declared that they would not let this terrible incident define Virginia Tech.
It is good that they will put plans into motion to set things back on an even keel there; but it’s going to be a while.
Between the dates of these crimes I’ve mentioned there were others. Other school shootings, other murders, other tragedies. We all know how that works. The body counts were lower so they did not get as much attention.
And I am very tempted to take a slight, very slight turn from the topic today and ask why then there is not the same media attention for the hundreds of thousands of babies murdered in the womb in our nation every year, and why we aren’t holding vigils for them with “Moments of Silence” to punctuate the horror of the slaughter. But I need to stay on track because if I go that way I would never get to my point here.
Following each of the aforementioned incidents, as the people closest to them grieved in shock and the rest of us shook our heads and asked each other what in the world is going on here, “Moments of Silence” were called for.
Now listen to me. I am not in any way diminishing the tragedy that has come to so many thousands of lives as a result of these crimes. I am not mocking them in their grief and I would not ridicule them for mourning in the way that is an expression of their hearts.
I approach this issue today, not to criticize those who are grieving for the method they choose to honor their dead. I approach this issue in order to bring to light the truth, that there is someone who is beyond the silence. There is someone who wants to hear their sorrows and who wants to be heard in turn.