Holy Indignation in Westminster Abbey
It was time for Evensong at Westminster Abbey on December 29, 2014. The crowd was sitting in their seats, all bundled in coats, scarves, and gloves. We were all gazing in wonder at this beautiful centuries-old place of worship, when the Royal School of Choir Music from America entered. I leaned forward in anticipation of a reverent service punctuated by beautiful music.
Yet it was so much more than I imagined. The choir began by singing a lullaby with lyrics originating from a Basque carol, ” . . . Hush, do not wake the Infant King, Soon will come sorrow with the morning, soon will come bitter grief and weeping, sing lullaby!”
This was an evening to remember “The Holy Innocents” — the infant children, specifically the Hebrew boys ages two and under who were slaughtered by Herod’s henchman many centuries ago when Jesus was born, as promised, in Bethlehem.
As I listened to this hauntingly beautiful and foreboding lullaby echoing in that ancient space, my imagination was sparked and my emotions were deeply stirred. The Dean of Westminster Abbey read passages from both the Old and New Testaments, specifically referencing the sorrow and suffering that pierced the hearts of many. He went on to mention that now, in our day, there are horrible injustices still happening to children around the globe. He paused and prayed for these innocents who are suffering in our world at this moment.
Then, he continued by talking about the love Jesus had for children and how the abuses done toward children angered him. He read the scene from Mark 10 describing how the disciples were preventing the little children from coming to Jesus. The dean emphasized, “When Jesus saw this, he was indignant.” Jesus rebuked his disciples, saying, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly, I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
I sat there imagining that long-ago scene, realizing the significance of hearing that we have a God who is indignant when children are hindered from coming to him. And there are numerous ways children can be hindered — through neglect, through pressure to focus exclusively on the material world, and most certainly the worst of all, through life-shattering experiences of abuse – spiritual, physical, psychological, emotional, and sexual abuse.
In the last few years up to these very recent weeks before Christmas, especially after reading the GRACE report, my own sense of indignation has been stoked as I continue to learn about the horrors of childhood sexual abuse and how we who claim to follow Christ have failed to understand and respond with loving indignation. (Yes, I believe those last two words belong together.)
Until our hearts are moved by these injustices, very little, if anything, will change.
God’s love moved Him to act. He started by sending His only son to this earth as a vulnerable infant so He could dwell amongst us.
What is the love of God calling us to do?
See. Pay attention to the vulnerable innocents in our everyday lives and do all we possibly can to protect them.
Listen. Listen to the voices of those whose lives have been turned upside down, inside out, and shattered.
Pray, beginning with prayers of confession. Confess the woeful neglect that has been happening on our watch.
Grow up. We must put aside our natural awkwardness, our fearful squeamishness, and stubborn naiveté.
Repent. Our indifference and arrogance are as fatal as an aggressive cancer.
And lastly, SPEAK — let’s tell the truth. Let’s lovingly but firmly confront those who would rather walk away from the mirror of truth looking exactly like they did at first glance.
As I walked away from the Abbey that evening, the ten bells were pealing so loudly and gloriously that the sound sent chills down my spine. I stopped in my tracks and listened. It was as if the bells had two messages: One was urging us onward and outward into the cold night with the fire of compassionate love burning in our hearts compelling us to seek and find in order to help the hurting.
The other message? An indignant, striking sound of warning to anyone who would DARE to obstruct the path of relationship between an innocent child and our Holy God.