The day after forty-nine persons were killed and dozens more wounded by a gunman in the Pulse night club in Orlando, Florida, Pilgrim Church erected a public shrine. Draped in rainbow fabric and shrouded in black, the shrine was the site of a public laying of flowers following worship the next Sunday. Through scorching sun, drenching rains, and violent storms, the shrine remained in place, its flowers regularly refreshed. It bore public witness to the tragedy and injustice of lives lost due to violent bigotry. And it provided a place for persons to pay respects, to pray, to remember.
On Monday, August 1, members of Pilgrim Church and the community — younger and older, white and Hispanic, straight and LGBTQ — gathered at the shrine. This public structure had stood for fifty days, one day for each person whose life was taken, and one day in honor of the survivors, who will bear the mark that that horrific night the rest of their lives. Those gathered recalled the sickening feeling as the story unfolded on June 12. We read Jeremiah’s words of Rachel who would not be comforted, for her children were dead (Jeremiah 31:15). All forty-nine names of the dead were read (forty-nine!), and a time of silence held. We remembered, and we honored.
We also read Jeremiah’s next words, telling us “there is a reward for your work … there is a hope for your future … your children shall come back to their own country.” The call is laid upon us, with every tragedy, to honor the victims, to aid our healing, and to make hope real, by committing ourselves to renewed action. We cannot undo the past. But we can give it meaning. We can join in the holy work of transforming tears into possibilities, heartbreak into hope.
That was our commitment. As the shrine was gently and lovingly dismantled afterwards, each participant, rather than leaving flowers, took home flowers, reminders to honor the lives lost — real lives, real people, with names and loved ones and dreams of their own — through action to transform the world for love, justice, and compassion.
Eid al-Fitr (Feast of Fast-Breaking is one translation) falls on the first day of the month of Shawwal, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. It is a festive day of prayers, well-wishing, giving, and especially feasting. This year in Duluth, it fell upon Wednesday, July 6.
Returning to the church office late that afternoon to prepare for Midweek Worship, I found a note in the drop box outside the office door. It read: “Thank you! from a Muslim neighbor. We dropped off some donuts…. This is a small token to celebrate the end of Ramadan and to show appreciation for your message.”
Sure enough, there was a box of a dozen donuts in the refrigerator. This gift was prompted by Pilgrim Church’s large sandwich-board sign on the lawn for the previous month, “To our Muslim neighbors: Blessed Ramadan.” This sign remained on display even after the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, when the shooter was identified as Muslim and many pointed the finger — erroneously — to “radical Islam” as the motivation. It remained up just feet away from our rainbow shrine for those victims, a shrine that remains in place for fifty days — one day for each person who lost their life, and one day in honor of the survivors. The compassion of grace is wide; there was, there is, there always will be, room to rejoice with those who rejoice even as we mourn with those who mourn. This is extravagant welcome, especially for any who are marginalized.
Summertime Midweek Worship (mid-June through July) always includes Holy Communion, in which participants serve one another the bread and cup around a circle. That evening, a large glazed cinnamon yeast donut, selected from the box, served as the communion bread. Two faiths blessed one another in sweet and holy feasting.
Taste and see; the Lord is good, indeed.