Last night was another night of violence in North Saint Louis. For us it began right outside the door of North City Church, where we were hosting our after-school tutoring program. Gunshots rang through the cafeteria while we were eating dinner – just two houses down from us two young men were shot down by a neighbor. Several of our kids saw it from the window. Needless to say, it was difficult to stay focused on math and reading after that. Just two hours later, shortly after we returned home, two more men were shot in an unrelated incident, this time a few blocks south of our house. I could hear the sirens rushing past as I tucked Dylan in for bed.

Though we have a mandate to work for social, political, and cultural change which might mitigate this kind of violence, our first response to these events is to mourn and lament. On nights like last night, North Saint Louis feels like a God-forsaken place. (Many Saint Louisans would agree – read the comments attached to the Post-Dispatch article on the shootings.) Just this week we’ve personally seen teen pregnancy, grinding poverty, and now gun violence – all things leading in one way or another away from abundant life and towards death. For many of our neighbors, quite literally, life is hell. What can we say then?

God speaks to us through our daily prayers, and today we read from Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is the cry of Jesus on the cross, Jesus who was himself the victim of human violence, who spent his life with those in situations just like our neighbors. We serve a God who is “God-forsaken,” and the proximity of Jesus’ own suffering bring us hope. As theologian Jurgen Moltmann put it: “Since Christ descended into hell [1 Pet. 3:19], what we experience as hell, and everything else that can be called hell, has been objectively transformed. Now there is someone who has brought hope into hell….If hell was the place of God-forsakenness, ever since Christ’s descent into hell it has been this no more….’O hell, where is thy victory? But thanks be to God who gives us the victory thorugh our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Cor. 15:55, 57).”

Christians from around the world will remember Jesus’ descent into hell this Saturday, the day before Resurrection Sunday. Here in Saint Louis, we will use the day to remember all the victims of violence who have fallen in our city in the last few months by participating in a Mourning March to lament the violence in our city and nation which has disproportionately affected African-American men (it’s at 1pm at Fountain Park if you’d like to join us). April 4 is also the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., a prophet who courageously spoke out against the political conditions which contributed to the poverty, violence and despair in communities like Mark Twain and Fountain Park. His dream for peace has yet to be realized, and so, like Jesus’ disciples on that Saturday, we wait for a new future for our people. The march will conclude at the Wailing Wall of Delmar, a monument erected last year to mark the stark racial segregation which divides our city and insulates some from the suffering of others.

The prayers we pray and the scripture we read shapes the way we view these stories. On Wednesday we prayed this collect from the Book of Common Prayer, which seemed particularly meaningful in light of recent events.

Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

May we keep the face of Jesus the tortured and murdered victim before us today as we await new creation and resurrection life.

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