Have you ever tried to sing in worship but found that the words were stuck in your throat? I certainly have. On Sunday, June 21, 2015, “All Are Welcome” by Marty Haugen was our opening hymn at church. But I couldn’t manage to sing “Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live” without weeping. Just days before, a mass shooter had opened fire at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, mere blocks from where I had lived as a student at College of Charleston.
This community that gathered for a small Bible study had welcomed the man. Despite their show of love, gunshots shattered the safety of that storied house of worship. In a small way, I felt like the psalmist did, though my exile was despair. How could we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land? (v. 4). How could I sing praises to God when my heart was so full of grief, anger, and cries of “Why God?”
While the two situations are wildly different, enough to be incomparable, the psalmist’s call to remember is the same. The psalmist calls on himself to remember Jerusalem in the midst of the exile; I called on myself to remember the example of the Emanuel 9 and their companions. They built a house where love could dwell, welcoming a stranger as God calls us to do. May we never forget them and their example.
This psalm is full of grief, anger, and despair. The writer begs God to remember the suffering and violence surrounding Jerusalem’s fall. And that morning, as I struggled to sing through my tears, I begged God to remember the Emanuel 9. I know God heard both prayers. Grief addressed to God offers music of its own.
How often do you bring the truth of your anger, doubt, or despair to God? When have you followed the example of the psalmist and brought your most raw emotions to God in prayer?
God, you listen to and comfort us in our grief, anger, and doubt. Surround us with your loving presence. Amen.