This reflection is a cross-published piece, which was originally published on the ELCA Racial Justice Blog on June 6, 2022.
By Bishop Virginia S. Aebischer
June 2022 — Reflecting on and Commemorating the Emanuel Nine
On the evening of June 17, 2015, a white supremacist walked into Mother Emanuel AME Church, sat down and joined a Bible study focused on Mark 4. We all know now that he intended to start a race war. Innocent lives were taken in an act of hate, an act all too familiar in our society.
That evening nine innocent people were killed in a temple of the Lord, where love was shared and life in Christ was embraced. The Emanuel Nine are saints who still witness to us today from their graves . . . they witness to the power of God’s word and God’s love! May we never forget and may we be changed! Their family members stood up just days after this horrific tragedy and amazed the world when they voiced forgiveness in Christ’s name. They shared an understanding of the power of God’s word, that it will prevail over any attempt to stifle or kill it. God’s word will be spread far and wide.
Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, has spoken often about God’s love. “Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on social theory or the ways of culture,” he says, “but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are our sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all.”
This June, inspired by a request from an AME congregation we asked the congregations of the ELCA South Carolina Synod to study the Parable of the Sower in Mark 4, to substitute it as their Gospel reading for Sunday, June 19, and to include the names of the Emanuel Nine in the prayers of intercession. Each year our Inclusiveness Network sponsors a worship service in a central location; this year we have decided to reflect on Mark 4, the Scripture being studied by the Emanuel Nine the night they were murdered, and to ponder how it might shape the way we live into community as Jesus’ disciples.
Only God’s word in Christ has the power to stretch and transform us, to equip us and entrust us with a message and a ministry of reconciliation. Only God’s word can open our hearts to the truth that Jesus came not only for me and you but for all God’s beloved children. Only God’s word, Jesus, can bring hope for our communities and the world.
In Jesus we have the power to become communities that reach beyond themselves, and to bring the transformation of God’s extravagant love to every sister and brother. Thanks be to God for this word of life and love. “Lord, let our hearts be good soil!” In Jesus’ name. Amen.
We remember Rev. Clementa Pinckney · Tywanza Sanders · Rev. Sharonda Singleton · Cynthia Hurd · Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor · Ethel Lance · Susie Jackson · Rev. Dr. Daniel Simmons · Myra Thompson.
ELCA worship for commemoration of the Emanuel Nine