Mercy Street Church of Christ
Abilene, TX
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The Scriptures Read at Tucson

by Leroy Garrett

The tragedy at Tucson may have been minor when compared to 9-11 or Katrina or Oklahoma City or even Camp Hood, but it touched the soul of the nation as few things have. This was particularly evident in the memorial service conducted at the University of Arizona four days afterward, with the president of the United /States himself participating. During those four days prior to the memorial service there was such intimate TV coverage of those killed and wounded that it was as if we knew each one personally.

The president in his address could eulogize each of the dead, personally, along with their pictures on the screen. One of the deceased, though a Baptist, was a member of the Mountain Avenue Church of Christ in Tucson. It must have been the first time ever that a president had cause to refer to one of our churches by name in a public address. The intimacy embraced the heroes as well, who were few enough that they too could be recognized and applauded for their courage — far different from 9-11 where the heroes, mostly dead, numbered in the hundreds.

The tragedy took on the aura of high drama. A highly respected federal judge, who just happened upon the scene, got caught in the crossfire. A nine-year old girl, who came to be the epitome of all of our own daughters or granddaughters, was among those killed. Then there were those brave souls, like our Church of Christ brother, who died shielding others. A popular congresswoman was shot through the head and survives, but remains in critical condition. The president himself conveyed the latest word from her bedside, “She opened her eyes!“ Rare drama! Hometown drama! Tucson became the hometown of us all, and the tragedy was not theirs alone.

The memorial service, which was supposed to be reverential, took on the likeness of a pep rally, perhaps because it was on a college campus where the students know how to cheer heroes, including dead ones. The president may have been taken back by all this, but he adapted to it well and gave an extremely effective discourse in which he spoke from the heart to the heart. Super! Others, from the governor of the state to the president of the university, made significant contributions. But I was especially impressed by the reading of Scripture, first that it was done so well — and reverently — but also that it was done on the campus of a state-supported university. We’ll likely be hearing from the ACLU!

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, a former governor of Arizona, read from Isaiah 40, and Attorney General Eric Holder read 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1. Both of these Scriptures have long been among my purple passages, and they frequently came up in conversations with Ouida on the park bench. The text for my last essay was taken from one of these. I found myself wanting the audience to know just how relevant these passages were to what was going on, but each reader wisely allowed the Scriptures to speak for themselves, reading without comment.

The Isaiah passage, from chapters 40-55, has long been known as “The Book of Consolation” in that the judgments of earlier chapters that led to the punishment of the Babylonian Captivity are over, and now the Lord is telling his people that they have served their time, paid double for their sins, and that their captivity is over. They are returning home, back to Jerusalem, in a new Exodus. And so God speaks through the prophet, “’Comfort, yes, comfort My people,’ says your God. Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry to her, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned” (Isaiah 40:1-2). Good news! The seventy years of Babylonian Captivity are over, and the people are free, free at last.

The prophet goes on to refer to a “voice” — unidentified — that is crying in the wilderness “Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” God is preparing the way back home! There is the tender assurance that “God will gather the lambs within His arms” and see to it that the weak are not left behind. Then there is that especially purple passage, that the secretary beautifully read in conclusion: “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). The Lord will see to it that we get home!

The passage in 2 Corinthians that Holder read has Paul saying in a similar vein “Therefore we do not lose heart,” but the reason for consolation is different. Now it is that “Even though the outward man is perishing, yet the inner man is being renewed day by day.” The apostle goes on to say that “our light affliction, which is but for a moment is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17), and goes on to talk about “seeing things unseen.” In 2 Corinthians 5:1 he gives us still more purple: “For we know if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”

I would often say to Ouida that the believer is never a disembodied spirit, or never “found naked” as Paul goes on to say. When our earthly bodies waste away and die, we have “a building from God, one not made with hands.” That night, now six weeks ago, when the aids from the medical center tenderly wrapped Ouida’s worn and decaying body, secured it to a gurney and rolled it away, I bathed my aching heart in all this purple, and I said to those present, “If we could but see her as she is now!”

May those in Tucson who heard these Scriptures — 14,000 in one venue and 13,000 in another (watching on a big screen) — along with the millions on TV — be consoled by the same hope. We all have our “Babylonian captivity” — a broken marriage or a broken heart or a prolonged illness or financial ruin — and we can look to a God who loves us, and who will lift us up on the wings of eagles and bear us home. And we all have to come to terms with our own mortality and realize that we too are wasting away, and that we can look to “things unseen” in the Great Beyond for our eternal renewal of both body and mind.

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