Were You There?

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Wednesday this week was a history making day. One that will live in infamy.

Depending on your generation, you can probably answer one or more of these questions:

Where were you on December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor Day?

Where were you on November 22, 1963 when President Kennedy was assassinated?

Where were you on September 11, 2001 when the planes crashed into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon?

And now,

Where were you on January 6, 2021, the Feast of the Epiphany, when a violent mob stormed the Capitol while the Congress was doing the people’s business, certifying the electoral college?

Where were you?

Working? Running errands? Helping your kids with virtual school? Cleaning your house? Reading your email? Catching up on the news? Texting? Scrolling through your Instagram feed? Just doing ordinary things?

For all of us this January 6th will be branded onto our psyches for the rest of our lives.

Let me tell you where I was.

I had watched the morning news about the Georgia election. I had polished off my first cup of coffee and was brewing my second in the kitchen, my office. I updated a newsletter article and drafted worship for the next couple of weeks. I had a meeting with Beth Boland about today’s service and we caught up happily on a number of things.

All the while, the news was on mute on the TV in my living room. The ceremony for counting the electoral ballots had just got underway. I was prepping for our 2:30 staff meeting and not paying much attention until I looked up in disbelief. The Vice President and the Speaker of the House were being ushered out of the chamber. Members of Congress were taking shelter under their desks. Distraught, I watched as the violent mob streamed unrestrained through the halls of the Capitol.

But it was 2:30 and time to zoom with the staff. As each of us realized the magnitude of what was happening, it was clear we could not proceed as normal. So what we did together was pray.

The same day. the Bishops of our Diocese issued a call to prayer. Rather than summarize it, let me read it to you.

January 6, 2021

On this Feast of the Epiphany, when we celebrate the visitation of the Wise Ones to the Christ-child and his family in Bethlehem, we have witnessed. a very different kind of visitation on our American family in Washington, D.C. Violence has erupted in our capitol city, threatening lives and tearing the very fabric our democratic process.

We Bishops in the Diocese of Virginia hold in support and prayer all people who live and work in Washington, and who face the possibility of violence tonight. We pray for all members of the Senate and the House of Representatives whose work has been disrupted and who fear for their safety. We pray for the Capitol Police and others who protect lives. We pray for the right transition of leadership that has been interrupted by anger and violence. We pray for all the people of our nation.

We strongly urge our President and all leaders of our nation to work for an end to violence in Washington and anywhere it might erupt in our nation, and to take their part in a peaceful transition of leadership.

This Bishops’ call to prayer ends with this prayer:

Holy God, like the Wise Ones who travelled far to see the face of the living Christ, grant us wisdom, so that we may see the face of Christ in each other, no matter what our differences, and so that we be the voices of wisdom and peace in our land. Let your love be known. Let your will be done on earth, in our nation, as it is in heaven, today, tomorrow and always. Amen.

That we see the face of Christ in each other…so that we be the voices of wisdom and peace in our land.

The Crucifixion, Marc Chagall

How could you possibly see the face of Christ on Epiphany? In the midst of such violence all I could see was the crucified Christ in agony. And all I could hear internally were cries of pain and grief — for my country.

Though I know that today is the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, it feels much more like Good Friday. And ringing in my head is the Good Friday spiritual, a song of enslaved Americans, Were you there?

Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble, tremble. Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

Were you there when they pierced him in his side?

Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

Will we be there to witness and address the pain of our nation? To help heal this deep deep gaping wound? Will we be there to answer the Bishops’ call to prayer?

Personally, privately, communally, collectively, as citizens of these United States, as people of faith?

Will we pray not just in our thoughts but in word and deed? What will we do when we get up off our knees?

Imagine what that might look like. If there are one hundred of us praying together today, there are one hundred ways for us to be there where God calls us to be when it matters most.

Remember, we are a resurrected people. We are an Easter people. Death and destruction, violence and hate, the cross and crucifixion do not get the final word. The living Word of God does. The living God of love does. The Lord of all hopefulness gets the final word.

May God open our ears to hear it, our hearts to enfold it, and our whole being to live it every day in the difficult days for our nation that still lie ahead.

Keep the nation and all of its citizens in your prayers this week — for peace on earth and good will toward all.


P.S. Listen to Andrea Thomas perform “Were You There?

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The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog

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