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.