How sobering that it all came down on Epiphany Day, January 6. Last Wednesday we celebrated the story of the Wise Men, who came from the East to worship the Christ Child because they saw a star in the sky. Having been warned in a dream not to return to King Herod, who ordered that all children ages two and younger be killed, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus went back a different way and settled in Nazareth.
The New Year has certainly kicked off in a different way because on January 6, we observed not only the Slaughter of the Innocents, but we witnessed the occupation of the Capitol Building in Washington D.C., our iconic symbol of democracy. This was the first large-scale assault on the capital since 1814. No one ever dreamed that this could happen. As a child I remember reciting every day, with my hand over my heart, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Hymn-writer Carolyn Winfrey Gillette penned these words after the 2020 elections:
God of love, we’ve known division and we’ve seen its awful cost.
We have struggled as a nation, and there’s much that we have lost.
We have been a house divided – and, divided, we can’t stand.
May our nation be united; give us peace throughout this land.
Copyright © 2020 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
Tune suggestion: Beech Spring
At a time when daily COVID-19 deaths would reach an all-time high of over 4,100 the day after the attacks, the Capitol building was besieged around 1 p.m. by a chaotic mob smashing windows and ransacking offices. Legislators were quickly escorted out of their chambers to places of safety. The U.S. Capitol Police were overwhelmed, and federal law enforcement was absent. Rioters and looters had free reign, with lawmakers forced to shelter in place for hours. Six people have been killed, including two of the Capitol Police. Many others were injured, and over 100 people had been arrested as of Sunday, including a man absconding with Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s lectern. It was painful to see some rioters waving the “Christian” and “Confederate” flags.
What have we become? It was truly shocking, but we should have known. These were not mere protestors. This was, in effect, an insurrection urged on by President Trump and others who were livid that legislators were about to certify the election of President-elect Biden. As senators and representatives were carrying out the constitutional process of certifying the winner of the presidential election, a violent and menacing crowd disrupted this most basic functioning of our democracy. Zip ties were carried to bind congressional leaders, and a gallows was constructed outside the capitol. Insurrectionists chanted “Hang Mike Pence!” The acts of these people demonstrated a profound disrespect for and attempted subversion of a cherished American institution. In addition, they put lawmakers, staffers, and many others in danger.
Turn us, Lord, from what divides us – fear that drives us far apart,
greed that leads to great injustice, racist ways that break your heart.
May we seek what brings together – hearts that bear each other’s pain,
care and mercy toward our neighbors, love that welcomes strangers in.
After previously promoting the January 6 protests and tweeting on December 19, “Be there, will be wild!” President Trump addressed the rioters on Wednesday afternoon in a brief minute-long video. “We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election. And everyone knows it, especially the other side. We love you. You’re very special. You see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil but go home and go home in peace.”
What have we become? Have we forgotten who we are as Americans and as human beings? How could we not have seen this coming? Since January 6, more than a dozen White House staff and Cabinet members resigned because of the President’s actions in inciting the riot and refusing to accept his election loss.
May we all, in conversation, speak the truth and listen well.
May we hear, across this nation, stories others have to tell.
May we learn from other cultures and be blessed by their worldview;
May we serve with one another – loving others, loving you.
More important, who can we yet become? In the Christian year, the season of Epiphany reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world who commanded his disciples to preach the gospel of faith, hope, and love to all the nations. What epiphany is God teaching us right now in the midst of a presidential transition? What sudden revelation have we received as we ponder our responsibility to be good neighbors and responsible citizens? I believe God is calling you and me to speak out, as our membership vows affirm, “against evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever form they present themselves.” As Jesus is the light of the world, so we need to allow Christ’s light to shine through our words and actions.
Together, we have the privilege and the responsibility to proclaim the sacred worth of all people. Lamenting the violence of this week, we remember Abraham Lincoln who, in his 1864 address on the battlefield of Gettysburg, said, “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
You have challenged us to goodness; you have shown a kinder way.
It’s your love that now inspires us as we seek a better day.
May we end our harsh division; may we stop the hate and fear.
Make us one, Lord, as a nation; may we be united here.
Alex Trebek, the beloved host of Jeopardy!, died on November 8. As the final episodes of Jeopardy! were released last week (taped in October), Trebek shared some final thoughts. He reminded his viewers to give thanks for all their blessings. Then he said, “I’d like you to open up your hands and open up your heart to those who are still suffering because of COVID-19, people who are suffering through no fault of their own. We’re trying to build a kinder, gentler society, and if we all pitch in a little bit we’re gonna get there.”
By God’s grace, who can we yet become? We’re gonna get there together.