Yesterday was a normal day. My roommates and I sat on our front porch doing normal Saturday afternoon things. We played guitar, grilled up some chicken, and tossed the frisbee. After the sun had sunk below the horizon, we heard them. Three gunshots, staccato and fast.
pop pop pop
We looked north on our street to where the sounds had come from, trying to see if they were gunshots or fireworks. That’s when I heard Jeremy say the words that made my blood run cold.
“There he is! You can see him with the gun!”
I stood up and squinted into the dusk to see where he was pointing. I saw commotion and silhouettes moving about a quarter mile up my street. There were screams. Then one of the figures hobbled into the street and turned around. I saw what never wanted to see: his arm lifted and fire shooting from the end of it. A car was parked in front of the victim, so I couldn’t see them, only the shooter. Three, four flares exploded from the gun in his hand and it took about two seconds for the sound to reach us.
pop pop pop pop pop
My brain tried to say and do 14 things at once, but I managed to yell to my roommates that I was calling 911. They kept their eyes on the scene as it unfolded while I shakily dialed the three digits.
“Hello, 911. Can you confirm your location?”
Suddenly my mind went blank and I remember thinking, She’s not asking the right question! Someone is being shot!
I managed to answer her questions coherently and get the appropriate information to her. Then all at once my roommates were yelling that the shooter got in a white sedan and drove East on Mexico. I told this to the dispatcher. I don’t remember the end of that phone call, but before I hung up, police cruisers were speeding down our street. My roommates ran to the curb and waved the cops to keep going up the street to where the shooting happened.
Ten minutes later our street was a flurry of flashing lights with 15 emergency vehicles blocking off the street.
I was shivering.
I had seen someone lift a gun at someone else and fire—over ten times.
It was utterly unlike seeing it on TV, where you know in the back of your mind that the actors will stand up afterward, dust the gravel from their butt and pull the squibs out of their shirt. It didn’t seem rehearsed or angled for dramatic effect; it was someone on my block stumbling into my street and shooting one of my neighbors.
Once the police had secured the scene, my roommate and I walked down to offer our statements. We learned that everyone involved was in high school.
Teenagers shooting teenagers.
Three were shot, but only one survived.
It just so happened that two of my roommates’ grandfathers died yesterday. That makes 6 people near me who have died since the outbreak of the Coronavirus, though none from the virus. Two from suicide, two from old age, and two in this shooting.
Death has drawn nearer to me in this season than ever before, and ironically it has nothing to do with the pandemic. But you mix that plague into the pot and suddenly you have a stew overflowing with existential fragility and a deep longing to know what comes next. After a traumatic event that rocked our neighborhood, I have also been asking, How do we respond?
So my roommates and I filled out cards that say, in Spanish and English,
He has risen!
Please let us know how we can serve you, neighbors!
and left them on our neighbors’ porches with Easter candy.
What is the response of Christians to overwhelming death?
Plant seeds of new life.
We won’t bring the teenagers back to life, nor will we stop shootings in America, but we will offer hope in a neighborhood where there is none. As best as we can, we will introduce them to Life in a season overrun with death.
How do you figure out the great mystery of death? You talk to Someone who died and lived to tell about it. You bind yourself to one who laughs at the face of death, knowing it has no more power than a falling leaf.
The word ‘religion’ comes from the Latin word religare, meaning ‘to bind.’ Will you bind yourself to this source of life, despite how hopeless the world tempts you to be, or will you ignore this season, missing out on the biggest opportunity to embrace your mortality and cling to Christ?
I hope your year has not been so filled with death, but I hope you are still drawn to reevaluate Jesus. Perhaps you’ve never met Him and this season is causing you to search for an anchor where you can tether your soul. Perhaps you’ve known Him for years but your religion has become stale.
Allow Jesus the Tornado to scream through your life, upending your comfort and your dry religion and blow new breath into your life. This is a unique season of human history, and we are offered the chance to examen ourselves more closely than ever before.
Shut down the distractions and commune with Christ.
Never lose sight of life, death, and the life beyond death.
Jesus said that Lazarus’ sickness would not end in death, yet Lazarus did die—briefly. Perhaps what Jesus meant is that
this death will not end in death.
Perhaps Jesus has such a pathetic view of death that He spits on its face and carries it with Him to the cross on Golgotha.
Perhaps He did just swallow up death and destroy it once and for all, allowing the Apostle Paul to chant,
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?
Perhaps the darkness of suicide and the pain of being shot repeatedly will one day melt in the overwhelming presence of Jehovah Rafah, our healer.
Perhaps the trauma which presently haunts us will soon have no more grip on us than a dream does once we’ve woken from it.
But while we still live in the land of drive-up shootings and plague, let us pray together (on Easter of all days),
Maranatha, come swiftly Lord Jesus, and make all things new.