Dr. Andrew Stoker|
(Courtesy of FUMC
The focal point of the service is the reading of the names of the departed by about twenty clergy and nonprofit leaders. After reading these names, we lit candles from a large candle held by Dr. Stoker, and walked through the pews lighting others’ candles from ours.
The language used in the service was deliberate. Reverend Andria Davis, of the Cathedral of Hope, led us in a confession: “We confess that the circle of love is repeatedly broken, because of our sin of exclusion… whenever there is insensitivity or a hardening of heart… whenever we allow inequality, whenever we permit inequity…”
(Courtesy of COH)
“If… someone slain is found lying in the open, the identity of the slayer not being known… The elders of the town nearest to the corpse… shall make this declaration: ‘Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done. Absolve, O Lord, Your people
The Ancient Rabbis ask what might seem like an obvious question: “Can it enter our minds that the elders… are shedders of blood?! [The meaning of their statement is], however, ‘[The man found dead] did not come to us [for help] and we dismissed him without supplying him with food, we did not see him and let him go without escort.’”
If we translate this into modern terms, what the elders are saying is that they, as leaders of the community, have set up a system of care, to ensure that everyone’s needs, regardless of their station in society, are taken care of.
The implication of this is obvious. If we take this interpretation at face value, the Deuteronomist is taking it as a given that the elders have done this work; they have set up this system of care. For if not so, how can they make that declaration?
Indeed, the Ancient Rabbis clarify just this with a few haunting words, later in the text, “When murderers multiplied, the ceremony… was discontinued.” Once the system of care has broken down, the elders cannot claim innocence anymore.
There is an underlying assumption, on the part of the Deuteronomist, that is worth dwelling on: The community is responsible for what happens in its midst. It is unacceptable for them to turn a blind eye, to avert their gaze from what is happening in their midst. It is unacceptable for them to disclaim responsibility and blame the powerless for their plight, regardless of how or why they think the powerless arrived at their station. It is even unacceptable for them to wait for the powerless to ask for help or just help them on an ad hoc basis.
They must set up a system of care, they must seek out those who need help, and they must proactively engage them. And even if they do all of this, if someone slips through the cracks, they must confess, they must take responsibility.
This is what the Deuteronomist reminds us. This is what Rev. Davis reminds us. This is what First United Methodist Church Dallas reminds us. Let us hope we will heed their message.