Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters…Continue to remember…those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering….
The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.
-Hebrews 13:1, 3, 11-14 (NIV)
Last Sunday, about the time we were sharing communion at our church, sisters and brothers in Christ in suburban Fort Worth were taking cover as a gunman opened fire during communion at West Freeway Church of Christ. Two, Richard White and Tony Wallace, were killed. The gunman, Keith Thomas Kinnunen, who had a history of mental illness, was killed as well.
I’ve been thinking a lot about those murdered brothers of mine. I didn’t know them, but Churches of Christ are a relatively small network. I know the son of a member of the West Freeway church. I likely know other people who knew Mr. White and Mr. Wallace. Most Sundays, when I share in communion I think about my sisters and brothers at Northwest. Now and then, rarely, I guess, I think about the way communion brings me together with sisters and brothers in Christ all over the world, friends and family I miss, other Christians I’ll never meet, sometimes even those who have gone on to be with the Lord. When I do, I’m usually thinking of how communion draws us together based on our faith in a suffering and resurrected Savior who makes us one body.
For the foreseeable future, though, I can’t imagine I’ll share in communion without thinking of Richard White and Tony Wallace. And even Keith Thomas Kinnunen. I think I’ll remember them, and remember those who had to watch them die while wondering if they were next, and members standing up to protect others instead of taking cover, and parents protecting children and spouses holding each other. It’s going to be hard not to juxtapose the quiet and peace of communion at Northwest with the chaos and fear — and also the courage and love — that marked communion at West Freeway last Sunday. That will likely mark it for a long time.
Some might say that’s a distraction, that what I ought to be thinking about during communion is Christ dying for me on the cross. “Do this in remembrance of me,” and all that. I disagree. I don’t think it’s a distraction at all. How can we remember Christ’s suffering for us without considering the suffering of our sisters and brothers in Christ? That gunman walked into that church with a gun last Sunday at least partially because there were a group of people in there who wore the name of Jesus. We ought to remember that, and mourn with them — as well as hold up the One who suffered to save them from exactly the kind of evil that seemed to win the day.
The writer of Hebrews says we ought to remember those who are mistreated as though we ourselves are suffering. Suffering shouldn’t be as distant as we let it be sometimes. We need to resist the impulse to hold it at arm’s length, to thank God that this or that particular suffering is not my problem because it isn’t in my church or my backyard. He says that we need to see the suffering we bear as part of Jesus’ suffering, that sometimes we have to join him “outside the city gate” — where things that aren’t palatable to polite society might happen — and bear the disgrace he bore. This is, I think, one of those times.
Suffering can push us apart. But sharing in suffering can also bring us together. To take on someone else’s burden — even partially, for just a moment — is to do something that’s very like Jesus. To bear the sins of others on our shoulders, to sit with all the pain and sorrow and grief that brings, even for an instant, is to be very much like Jesus. That’s how he solved the problem of evil, after all. By bearing it. Not solving it, legislating it, denying it, or trivializing it. He just allowed it to be piled on him as he hung bleeding on the cross.
There are those, predictably, already trying to use the West Freeway tragedy for their own purposes. Some are using it as another case study for why we need stricter gun control laws. Others cite it as an example of how open carry laws work, that the armed good guys shot the armed bad guy before more people died. Don’t do that. What happened in that church a week ago isn’t about the Second Amendment, or liberals vs. conservatives. It’s about evil and about sin: the evil and sin of a man who senselessly and selfishly killed two people, and maybe also the evil and sin of a world in which he slipped through the cracks instead of getting the help he needed. But it’s also about hope: that people will still sacrifice their lives to save others, and that One already did sacrifice his life to bear our sins and save us all.
So, please, resist the impulse to make pronouncements about gun control vs. open carry (as though one cancels out the other). Instead, this Sunday as you remember the suffering of your Savior in communion, would you remember the suffering of your brothers and sisters at the West Freeway church? Would you pray for them?
And, while we’re at it, maybe we could pray for all of our brothers and sisters all over the world who suffer violence, tyranny, and persecution on a daily basis.
And maybe we can let our identification with suffering sisters and brothers teach us how to identify with Jews suffering persecution in New York. Maybe, if we can share more in the suffering of our extended family in Christ, we’ll more sensitive to and aware of the suffering of others in our world, other people who our Father loves and for whom Jesus died.
In prayer during a gathering on Monday, the day after the shootings, an elder at West Freeway spoke these words to God: “With all of our hearts, we ache. And with all of our hearts, we love. What we feel as loss, we know is your gain. Guide us in how we handle the losses … that your way be our way.”
Amen. May his way — the long and sometimes hard way of sharing in the suffering of others, offering love in response to hate, and taking the burdens and sins of others on our own shoulders — be our way. And may we never forget that Jesus has walked that way for all of us.
Do this in remembrance of him.