Dean Gregory Sterling addresses Yale Divinity community at Newtown tragedy remembrance gathering
Last Friday I was preparing to travel to meet my new granddaughter. As I heard the news that morning, I could not help but think of my grandchildren and the unimaginable experience that parents in Newtown suffered: twenty young children went to school that morning who never returned home. When I embraced my grandson at the airport the next day and then held my new granddaughter in my arms for the first time, I thought of the parents whose arms were empty and whose hearts had been shattered. The words of Jesus rang in my ears: "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs."
The events of last Friday are indelibly imprinted on our minds. We will all remember where we were when we learned what happened. We have come here today to remember the dead, not only the twenty children but the eight adults. We will do so in two stages. We will ring the bell twenty-six times to remember the twenty children and six staff who were killed at Sandy Hook. We do this in concert with Trinity Episcopal Church near Sandy Hook and many other churches throughout Connecticut and beyond. We will then have a prayer. We will then ring the bell two more times to remember the other two people who lost their lives that day and say a prayer for them.
As the bells ring, let us remember the value of human life. Let us remember the innocence of our children and their joy of life. Let us remember those who gave their lives in the training and protection of those children. I have often thought of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem on the death of his daughter, Fanny. I read it with the hope that it will help you to reflect on the death of those whose brief lives we remember today.
By The Fireside: Resignation
There is no flock, however watched and tended,
But one dead lamb is there!
There is no fireside, howsoe'er defended,
But has one vacant chair!
The air is full of farewells to the dying,
And mournings for the dead;
The heart of Rachel, for her children crying,
Will not be comforted!
Let us be patient! These severe afflictions
Not from the ground arise,
But oftentimes celestial benedictions
Assume this dark disguise.
We see but dimly through the mists and vapors;
Amid these earthly damps
What seem to us but sad, funereal tapers
May be heaven's distant lamps.
There is no Death! What seems so is transition;
This life of mortal breath
Is but a suburb of the life elysian,
Whose portal we call Death.
She is not dead, the child of our affection,
But gone unto that school
Where she no longer needs our poor protection,
And Christ himself doth rule.
In that great cloister's stillness and seclusion,
By guardian angels led,
Safe from temptation, safe from sin's pollution,
She lives, whom we call dead.
Day after day we think what she is doing
In those bright realms of air;
Year after year, her tender steps pursuing,
Behold her grown more fair.
Thus do we walk with her, and keep unbroken
The bond which nature gives,
Thinking that our remembrance, though unspoken,
May reach her where she lives.
Not as a child shall we again behold her;
For when with raptures wild
In our embraces we again enfold her,
She will not be a child;
But a fair maiden, in her Father's mansion,
Clothed with celestial grace;
And beautiful with all the soul's expansion
Shall we behold her face.
And though at times impetuous with emotion
And anguish long suppressed,
The swelling heart heaves moaning like the ocean,
That cannot be at rest.
We will be patient, and assuage the feeling
We may not wholly stay;
By silence sanctifying, not concealing,
The grief that must have way.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
May we reflect and then pray.
PRAYER (as prepared) by Hopie Randall '11 M.Div., Interim Associate Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid
Gracious and Eternal God, you who are sustainer of life and hope and our comforter and consoler in every need, we gather together as your people seeking your strength, your grace, your mercy and your peace as we pause to remember the community in Newtown CT. Our hearts continue to ache in shared grief and pain for the loss of so many gone too soon. These events remind us that we live in a world filled with brokenness and strife in need of your healing touch. But you oh God are our refuge and our strength. You have promised that you will never leave us nor forsake us and that you would be with us even in the midst of horrible moments. We lift up to you for keeping care the families who are grieving. We call upon You, O Lord, to comfort those who mourn, to bind up the broken-hearted, to touch, to console, to calm, to heal, to soothe like only you can. We pray for those who are wounded and recovering. We ask you, God, to hold in the palm of your hands those precious babies who witnessed this tragedy and will live with this for the rest of their lives. Assure them in ways that only they can understand of your promised peace in their midst. Arrest us and dislodge us out of our places of complacency and motivate and empower us as individuals and as a nation to work together to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with you. Show us how to all slow down and love our children and so cherish one another, and we pray this day to be aware of the blessing we have and the blessings we can offer. This is our prayer, with hope, expectancy, and thanksgiving in Jesus' name.
DEAN'S COMMENTS, CONTINUED
We will also ring the bell twice more for the shooter and his mother. They too were part of the tragedy of last Friday. As we remember them, let us also remember that the sacredness of this space has a pulpit. It is not only a house of prayer, but a place of proclamation that calls us to live out the implications of the faith that we express in prayer.
This is a moment for people of faith to join with people of good will not only to challenge the policies that permit the virtually unrestricted proliferation of lethal weapons – especially military-style weapons -- but to confront the very cult of violence that allows the seeds of violence to grow unchecked across our land. How many Columbine High Schools, how many Arizona Safeway stores, how many Aurora movie theaters, how many Sandy Hook elementary schools will it take before we say enough?
It is time to say enough. It is time to say enough to those who argue that the right to bear arms legitimizes the right to produce and sell weapons that are military in nature. It is time to say enough to those who claim that the glorification of gruesome and unfettered violence in video games and films poses no threat to our children and grandchildren. It is time to say enough to those who point to the complexities of cases like Newtown and argue that we cannot do anything because we can not do everything.
I want to end with a different poem that I find especially apt at this time that is about another child. It is a reminder that we are called to the service of a child, a service that dedicates us to peace. The words will be familiar to you as the text of the Christmas carol "In the Bleak Midwinter."
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.
PRAYER (as prepared) by Maggi Dawn, Associate Dean for Marquand Chapel, and read by Lisa Huck '88 M.Div., Registrar
God of grace and mercy, we have paused to remember Sandy Hook, and to mourn the victims at the school.
Now we also hold before you the perpetrator of the violence. We do not understand his actions, and we are horrified at the chaos and tragedy he caused. But we know that every person is precious in your sight, and no life goes beyond your notice. You are the judge of all, and judgement is not ours to mete out. So, although we struggle to forgive, still we pray, because it is right to do so, that you receive him in mercy, and that your forgiveness and redemption might yet extend to him.
And we pray for his mother. She, too, was a victim of this tragedy. We mourn her death, as we mourn all deaths, and pray that she may rest in peace.
God of mercy, hear our prayer
In the name of Christ.