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Responding to the Charleston Shooting

posted Jun 18, 2015, 9:14 AM by First Presbyterian

An unspeakable tragedy occurred last night.  At a Bible Study, in a church, 12 people, including the pastor, gathered to pray and read scripture and worship God.  A thirteenth person, a young man, spent an hour in prayer with the group, and then he suddenly shot and killed 9 of them.


Gunfire rang out in God’s house.  Bullets tore through bone and flesh in God’s house.  Blood was spilled in God’s house.  Six of our sisters in Christ and three of our brothers in Christ lie in morgues today because evil reared its head in a place of worship.  Nine churchgoers are dead.  Nine people searching for a deeper relationship with God are dead.  Nine women and men who gathered in peace and faith are dead.


Our churches tell stories.  We see the stain on the ceiling that tells of when the roof leaked.  We see the plaques under the windows that remind us of when we united and raised funds to replace them.  We can walk up to the catwalk and see the charred beams that tell of the fire in the 1980s.  At Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, there is a new, terrible story that will be told.  Blood stains carpets and furniture, bullet holes are in the walls and the floors; bullet holes that, even when patched, will tell the story of that horrific night for years to come.


I am appalled.  My stomach clenched and churned when I read the news.  I thought of Jeremiah describing the desolation of the Holy City in Lamentations:

 Should priest and prophet be killed in the sanctuary of the Lord?  Young and old lie in the dust of the streets; they have fallen by violence.  Joy is gone from our hearts; our dancing has turned to mourning.


Evil entered the church.  A terrorist killed 9 people who were at prayer.  And not only do we, as Christians, mourn for the attack on the body of Christ, but we as Americans mourn for the continuation of attacks on black churches.  From the 16th Street Church bombing in 1963 to the over 40 black churches attacked by arsonists between 1990 and 1996, to the Macedonia Church of God which was burned in 2009, and now to gunfire in Emanuel AME Church last night.  Evil lurks, spurned by bloodthirst and hatred and fear.


But evil will not win.  Terror will not win.  The church takes the name “Emanuel,” which means “God with us.”  And there is no weapon powerful enough to drive out God.  God was with the 12 in the church last night as bullets flew and blood poured and screams rang out.  God was with the victims as they died.  God was with the survivors as they fled.  God was with the community as they mourned.


And today, the day after the body of Christ was attacked, the church still proudly bears the name “Emanuel.”  Because God does not leave us during tragedy.  God does not leave any of God’s people during tragedy.  God weeps with us, mourns with us, cries out in anguish with us, and holds us close in our fear, our anger, and our despair, as we continue to trust that despite great evil, the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.  Amen.


-Rev. Michael Plank

June 18, 2015

Hudson Falls, NY