The Bible’s shortest verse — “Jesus wept” — is also one of its most important.
That was the message delivered by the Rev. Chad Scruggs in a March 5 sermon — “Death’s Conqueror” — as the faithful at Nashville’s Covenant Presbyterian Church continued their Lenten journey toward Holy Week and Easter’s promise of new life after death.
“How do we face death in our world,” he asked, “especially untimely deaths, without the pain and confusion of death leading us to despair?”
That was three weeks before a gunman crashed through the glass doors of his church’s Covenant School and killed three staff members and three 9-year-old students — including the pastor’s daughter, Hallie Scruggs. Police fatally shot the attacker, 28-year-old Audrey Hale, a former Covenant student who had taken the name Aiden and male pronouns online.
Police confirmed that Covenant had been targeted. But Nashville officials and the FBI have declined to release a “manifesto” referenced in Hale’s final social media warning: “One day this will make more sense. I’ve left more than enough evidence behind.”
The families of those killed have mourned in private, even as solemn Holy Week rites flowed toward Easter (April 9), surrounded by a whirlwind of familiar arguments about gun control and a mental health crisis that has shattered so many lives.
In his sermon before the attack, Scruggs had already plunged into deeper, ancient mysteries — stressing that believers can trust that God understands the grief, anger and confusion caused by violence and death.
When meeting the grieving family of his friend Lazarus, Jesus responded with anger as well as compassion. Thus, the importance of the Gospel of John’s blunt words: “Jesus wept.”
“What makes Jesus so angry is the same thing that makes him weep,” said Scruggs, in the online video of that service. “It is the revulsion of everything in him against the power of death and the havoc that death is wreaking in the lives of those whom Jesus loves.
“We might say with great conviction here that Jesus hates death and Jesus doesn’t just hate death theoretically. ... Jesus hates death in his body and Jesus hates death in his heart. And so, for those whom he loves who are grieving the enemy that he reviles, what does he do? ... John tells us that Jesus sat down in that moment, and he wept.”
That short, compelling verse, Scruggs added, means that “Jesus himself is in it. He is in it with those who mourn. God himself weeping with those who weep, God not pretending that grief is somehow imaginary or that grief should be hidden or even avoided, but in righteousness Jesus joining his tears to theirs.”
There are other stories and lessons that will emerge from The Covenant School tragedy, but that can wait, noted Brent Leatherwood, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. His family’s three children at the school are “safe now,” while the “trauma from that day & the memories of six friends, classmates, leaders, & servants will be with us for the rest of our lives,” he wrote on Twitter.
“Many have asked what’s next? ... Things I know: Covenant will come back. There’s too much light there and too many people leaning in for it to be otherwise. Darkness never prevails against the light,” added Leatherwood.
“We’ve become numb to these tragedies as a society. Defenseless, innocent lives being taken. We should never accept this as a reality. We need to commit ourselves to finding an answer to this epidemic and not rest until it is solved. Count me as a solution seeker on this.”
Viewed through the lens of eternity, Good Friday and Easter, Scruggs concluded that it remains important to meditate on the mystery of why “Jesus wept.”
“Knowing exactly what he’s about to do, Jesus sits down and does what? He weeps,” said the pastor, describing the biblical account of Lazarus being raised from the dead.
“Do you see that a strong confidence in the end of the story does not undo or justify the absence of grief in the middle? A mature faith adds its tears to the sadness in our world. Jesus says blessed are those who mourn — all the while not losing confidence, and how that sadness will eventually be overcome in him.”