In the wake of the murder of Officer Joseph Seals and the mass killing in the Jersey City Kosher Supermarket on Martin Luther King Blvd., Councilman James Solomon asked Grace Church to open its doors last night and do what churches do: sing, light candles and feed everyone. Members of the choir turned out to help. Our Bishop came early and sat in the back row, being present but not over shadowing whatever would happen next. It was hard to hold the night loosely, reaching as everyone in Jersey City is, to absorb what has happened.
A father of five young children was shot in the head for being a policeman. Two of the three people in the store were slaughtered for being Jews and an employee was killed randomly for being there. A nearly illegible manifesto in the killer’s U-Haul described the attack as the will of God.
Breathtaking in scale, is this shooting essentially different from the other shootings in Greenville? Murders of black sons, fathers and brothers happen so often that their names blur together. Anesthetized by the relentlessness, we don’t open the doors of multiple churches and synagogues when they are shot. Ad hoc shrines are erected instead on the sidewalks where they fell. Tee shirts with these young men’s names in permanent marker are tied to fences with balloons and flowers. Like pop-up bimas and altars my clergy colleagues and I have prayed before them, but years pass and we’ve wandered off with no more clarity about what to do than we ever had.
What hymn can we sing that will fix this? How many candles do we light to heal it? The answer isn’t in the street. Nothing scrambling politicians and clergy do will loose it into our hands.
All we have is the last, parchment full moon of the twenty-teens, the frozen ground and Martha Rodriguez, widow of the employee killed at the supermarket, saying she forgives her husband’s killers and prays for all of us to find a faith that is strong enough to help us forgive each other.
When Christ comes at Christmas he will take his place in the darkness of this world, in our pain and with a target on his head. Running from the same, generic violence that scattered everyone on MLK Blvd. on Tuesday afternoon, Jesus’ parents will flee from Herod’s slaughter of all Jewish boys.
That Christ has come to dwell among us means God is always in the crowd and among the second graders crawling on the floor out of the classroom at Sacred Heart School while bullets fly in the street below.
Ill-advised as it may seem to us the decision is final. God will not leave. And so we must stay awake, looking for Jesus in every face.
Sisters and Brothers: Keep watch.
The Rev. Laurie Jean Wurm is Rector of Grace Church Van Vorst, Jersey City.