Following are worship resources by two Church of the Brethren pastors, a prayer sparked by the tragedy at Newtown and a new version of the Christmas carol, “What Child Is This?”
A Prayer for Comfort and Peace
(Commemorating the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Conn., Dec. 14, 2012)
O God, as we gather for worship today, we realize that we are very close to the celebration of Your birth on Christmas Day.
However, many of us find it difficult today to think about any kind of celebration. Our hearts, minds, and souls are filled with the sickening news of the shootings that took place on a December morning at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. A young man aimed a gun at innocent children, teachers, and even his own mother. Before he took his own life, 20 first graders, 6 teachers, and his mother died from the weapon he held in his hands. The thought that their lives could end so quickly and violently makes us sad, angry, numb, and sick.
Most of us do not personally know any of the victims of this senseless act. However, every person in this room knows someone who is 6 or 7 years old. Every one of us knows parents and relatives of first grade children. We also know many teachers who have shaped our lives and the lives of those who are dear to us. That is why a tragedy like this rips at the very fiber of our being.
We lost track of how many times we heard others ask, “WHY?” We admit that we are asking the same question today. Deep in our hearts we realize that no answer could possibly help us make sense of what took place. As we ask this question, remind us that it can become our prayer at a time when we are not even sure how to pray. It helps us unite our hands and hearts and voices with people around the world who gather for prayer vigils and times of remembrance. You invite us to turn to You with all our tears and all our questions. Help us to recognize Your presence in the midst of all this brokenness.
As we search our hearts for other ways to pray, we think about the family members and friends of those who died. Comfort them, O God, and grant them wisdom and courage for the facing of the hours ahead. We think of the teachers who put the safety of their students before their own safety and security. Thank You for their unhesitating courage and sacrifice. We think of the law enforcement officers, paramedics, and other first responders who witnessed unspeakable sights as they did their work. Bless them with the peace that You alone can give. We also pray for those who escaped or survived the bullets that were fired that morning. Grant them the precious gift of healed memories, O God.
We wonder how we may honor the memory of these innocent children and adults. You remind us that one way we can do this is to cherish the relationships we share with our own children and family members. May we never overlook an opportunity to love them with our words and our deeds.
Show us how we can express gratitude to those who are prepared to teach us, protect us, rescue us, and practice the healing arts for our sake. Their sacrifice and dedication is a genuine blessing.
Finally, Prince of Peace, deliver us from weapons of our own making and choosing. Guide our thoughts, words, actions, and intentions. Bless each of us with courage to replace senseless acts of violence with sensitive deeds of care and compassion. May this be so from this time forth and forever more. Amen.
— Bernie Fuska is pastor of Timberville (Va.) Church of the Brethren. His prayer was shared by Shenandoah District. “Bernie used this in his worship yesterday as a candle of remembrance was lighted in place of the Advent wreath candles. We are free to use and adapt it,” the district said in its e-mail message. “Permission is granted to adapt and use these prayer thoughts.”
Whose Children These?
(A new hymn text by Frank Ramirez for the Christmas carol “What Child Is This?” originally written by William C. Dix, 1865, set to the tune Greensleeves, a traditional English melody.)
Whose children these, who laid to rest,
Tear every heart in weeping?
Whose children these, God, tell us please?
Uphold them in your keeping.
Each reaching above the fray
To heaven’s border where angels pray,
Love, moving past hate and fear,
To save and cherish our children.
The wind blows cold. These ills behold,
As rage and evil come feeding.
We see, we hear, Oh God, we fear
That none can staunch the bleeding.
You are greater than evil’s reign.
Stand in our midst, we pray, remain.
Comfort hearts, we’ll play our parts,
So nothing love impeding.
Each child’s name with us remain,
These sorrows sharing with those who weep
Whose loss is great, against this hate
Your love abiding be done.
Reign! Rein in insanity,
Install in all your divinity!
So then may we, one humanity,
See your will as in heaven be won.
— Frank Ramirez is pastor of Everett (Pa.) Church of the Brethren. “Here is a hymn text I wrote around 2 a.m. this morning for use in our worship service,” Ramirez wrote when he submitted the hymn as a resource for Newsline readers. “For my message I added the text from Matthew on the Slaughter of the Innocents…. We sang it at the end of worship to (the tune) Greensleeves. Here it is, in case others want to sing it.”