Dear People of Calvary,
Like yours, I’m sure, my heart has been heavy this week with sadness and anger and confusion and fear, and the full range of human emotions that swirl within us in a time such as this. By this evening, it seems almost certain that the world will have witnessed footage of the brutal murder of Tyre Nichols at the hands of five Memphis police officers. I confess to you that it’s hard for me to know quite how to pray right now.
Certainly prayers of lamentation and grief, such as those our forbears voiced so candidly in the psalms, are called for first before any of us tries to make any sense of what has taken place in our community. We mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep, especially the friends and family of Tyre Nichols. Jesus also commanded us to pray for our enemies and for those who seek to do us harm, which means I must find a way to pray for the five police officers and any others who were complicit in Mr. Nichols’ death as well. I believe part of that prayer will be to understand where their violence might have come from.
As a Christian, I believe that sin and violence have histories. Their sources go back in time, even across centuries. You and I have been shaped by a violent and broken world simply by virtue of being human. And part of our work, for ourselves and as part of a larger society, is not simply to call for accountability and justice in the moment, although Scripture makes it abundantly clear that we must call for these on behalf of the victims of injustice and oppression. We also have to ask the harder and more elusive questions about the sources of our sins. We must set ourselves to reform the institutions and systems in which sin and violence live as surely as they live within any particular human heart. St. Paul wrote that we do not only struggle against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities. This is still true of us and of our world. This struggle is still work the Church is called to do.
Tomorrow we will open Calvary for prayers at 11:30 a.m. and will celebrate Holy Eucharist together at noon with prayers for healing and anointing with oil for those who desire it. The service will be simple and quiet. Calvary clergy will be present to offer whatever pastoral support and companionship we can.
Previous generations have handed down prayers to us in the Book of Common Prayer as well. There are many from which to choose. Today, I offer one for guidance and one for justice that might help give words to what you hope and pray for in our beloved and hurting city in the days to come.
Grace & peace,
O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light rises up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what you would have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in your light we may see light, and in your straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Almighty God, who created us in your image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.