A little over a month after the shooting at Newtown Elementary School which left twenty young children and six staff members dead, President Obama today offered bold Presidential leadership for a national movement to curb the growing epidemic of gun violence. The democratic spirit of his speech demonstrates his understanding that a broad movement will be needed to overcome the powerful and increasingly entrenched Gun Lobby and their allies in the Republican Controlled House of Representatives. A common complaint of those opposed to new regulations is that tragedies, like those in Aurora, Newtown, Columbine, or Virginia Tech, should be mourned rather than exploited for political gain. They argue that “there will be a day” to discuss the issues underlying the expanding impact of gun violence in our nation, but it should not occur close to the violence itself.
The Christian tradition has a different perspective on the matter. At the heart of Christian reflections on violence stands the central metaphors of the cross and the empty tomb, violent death and hopeful resurrection, the agony of innocent suffering and the insistence of an embattled community to make a meaningful way out of suffering. The resurrection, as a central symbol of Christian faith, calls people of faith to insist that death not be given the last word. It demands that we not imagine ourselves as silent or helpless in the face of unimaginable violence. Just as it did for Jesus’ community, today resurrection happens when humans take a risk to respond to suffering with an emboldened insistence that the sort of violence we experience will not be allowed to continue.
This ethic does not deny suffering, it does not preclude mourning, it simply refuses to accept that our responses to tragedy cannot be redemptive. This is the most basic thing that the Resurrection story teaches: that in the midst of grief, that which we have lost returns to us in some form and shapes who we are becoming. Our faith teaches that our grief and response to it are intertwined in the work of building the world God imagines for us.
President Obama is correct in his assessment. A national movement is needed to respond to the catastrophe of violence in our nation. The story of the resurrection is a great resource for understanding the imperative to seek new life after tragic violence. It compels us to search for new life even when all we can see is inexplicable death through tear-soaked eyes. Nothing we do now can bring those precious children back to life, but if we struggle together, we may be able to create the conditions for their resurrection, a world made safer and better because of our memories of them. Or, we can stand speechless and let death have the last word.