It was supposed to be a day like any other day, but it would turn out to be a day like no other – and yet, sadly, tragically, heart-breakingly, a day like too many other days in too many places  – even, God help us, yesterday and just a few miles from here.

For you see, it was a day on which harried and less-than-fully caffeinated mothers fixed breakfasts and made lunches for sleepy six year olds. It was a day on which fathers prodded slow-moving first graders to get dressed, to not miss the bus, to remember their jackets. It was a day on which some child confessed to a parent, in the way of children everywhere, of a project that was due tomorrow and yet un-begun – but which would never be done. It was a day on which some parents – who would forever wish there could be a way to reprise that moment – would snap at their children and who never ever imagined that such words would be last words. It was a day on which a teacher busied herself getting her own children ready for school while thinking of how better to engage and inspire a particular bored or recalcitrant student later that day, a “later” that would never come, as she instead found herself courageously and fatally using her body as a human shield that one of those in her charge might go to school on yet another day.

It was a day that we gather on this day to remember and to mourn and to pray and to ask before God “How can You use us, how can You embolden us, so that no day might ever end in such a way again?” For in the face of those names – those names that were answered to joyfully by twenty-six unique and beloved children of God in Newtown, names that at the same time echo the names of thirty-two names at Blacksburg, and six names at a Milwaukee Sikh temple, and twelve names at both Columbine and Aurora, and too many other names in too many other places, but which are now names on tombstones and names etched in the scar tissue of too many hearts – our first respects must be to those ones we now speak in memory of the moment one year ago when those ones who answered to those names would never do so again. First, the children [a handbell sounds after the reading of each name]:

– Charlotte Bacon, six years old
– Daniel Barden, seven years old
– Olivia Engel, six years old
– Josephine Gay, seven years old
– Ana Marquez-Greene,six years old
– Dylan Hockley, six years old
– Madeleine F. Hsu, six years old
– Catherine V. Hubbard, six years old
– Chase Kowalski, seven years old
– Jesse Lewis, six years old
– James Mattioli , six years old
– Grace McDonnell, seven years old
– Emilie Parker, six years old
– Jack Pinto, six years old
– Noah Pozner, six years old
– Caroline Previdi, six years old
– Jessica Rekos, six years old
– Avielle Richman, six years old
– Benjamin Wheeler, six years old

And then the teachers whose bravery leaves us wordless:

– Allison N. Wyatt,
– Rachel Davino,
– Dawn Hochsprung
– Anne Marie Murphy
– Lauren Rousseau
– Mary Sherlach
– Victoria Soto

As the pealing of the bells and the sounds of those names carry their way to God’s ears, let us affirm these things:

First, even amidst the almost un-utterably sad swirl of feelings that find us in this moment, we shall affirm this: God is not responsible for this terrible thing. Human freedom went terribly, terribly wrong in the one who did these shootings at Sandy Hook. God weeps with us and with all those parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters who now have an irreplaceable hole in their lives. Like he did when standing at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, Jesus too weeps again.

Second, we turn to and remember and shall re-affirm, even through clenched teeth and aching hearts, the center of the Gospel’s great truth, as expressed by St. Paul: that there is nothing, nothing in all creation, nothing, nothing – not even death – that will ever separate any from the love of God through Jesus Christ.

And, third, even though that affirmation may well not feel like enough in the face of such a horrific event, in the face of far too many such events, the faith that we cling to, the gentle Savior that we would follow, the God whom we worship, will continue to gently, passionately, mercifully work even in the midst of evil, great evil. And none of those lives so cruelly taken and none of those lives that live on in grief will ever be separated from God’s tender and abiding mercies.

Finally, let us affirm and dedicate ourselves as Christians, as ones who follow a Savior whose love and welcome for children was both tenacious and tender, that we shall resolve to put aside over-simple slogans and shallow and selfish formulations and ask how in the name of a God of love, and in the midst of a world that has sometimes competing goods, how nonetheless shall we be a society where Christians frame the debate that needs to happen not as “Gun Rights” versus “Gun Control,” but as how shall we best love and value our children in ways that are responsible and respectful and honor the One who Himself was born into this world as a child. May it be so.

Let us pray: We recall, O God of gentleness and justice, that your Son Himself was born amidst the horror of loss and hurt and pain and evil, the slaughter by King Herod of those hundreds of baby boys, the event about which scripture says “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” On this day, as we weep with those who weep over lives untimely taken; and as we remember the One who is our Mighty Counselor, we pray for wisdom to know how to think, to know what to do, to offer words that would bind up, to confront evil with good. We pray for the courage to change what needs changing, the imagination to break through the things that have trapped and mired us, the resolve to continue reaching out to people of good will who also wish to find ways that days as such as these would one day be only a distant and bitter memory. As we leave this place, may we also take more delight in the smiles and laughter of children, may we give thanks for how their energy is infectious and their trust a gift, and may we find ever-better ways to protect them and honor them – for indeed we follow a Savior who reminds us that nothing we do should ever hinder or hurt them. It is His name that we pray. Amen.