Readers of this article may be startled by the title. At first glance, it appears that Jesus was a victim of the killer who wantonly shot some 32 people and then himself. Of course, that is not the case.
Jesus was missing, however, from the memorial service held on April 17 on the campus of the ill-fated school. At that service, four representatives of different faiths addressed the crowd. The Islamic speaker, first in line, read from the Koran and repeatedly invoked the name of Allah. A Buddhist spoke next, quoted at least once from the Dalai Lama, and reminded the grieving that man, by nature, is inherently good. The third speaker was a woman from the Jewish community who was not shy about invoking the name of God. Lastly, a Protestant minister spoke of healing and how everyone needed to come together. He closed by saying how important it was to not give up on the future and that we must cast our lot on the side of hope. Other speakers included President George W. Bush and the governor of the state, Tim Kaine,
But not one speaker spoke the name of Jesus Christ. Yes, 33 people were killed, but at the memorial service it seems that Jesus also went missing.
Undeniably, the people of Blacksburg, along with families and friends of the victims, deserve our sympathy and our prayers. And they certainly have our condolences in their sorrow. But, what people do, or do not do, in times of collective tragedy is like an open window into the soul of a nation. The fact that Jesus was ignored at this historic memorial service is merely a symptom of the state of the culture vis-a-vis Christianity.
The irony is that in the face of the calamity of death, no one can bring hope like Jesus. After all, it was He who rose triumphant from the grave, breaking death’s power and guaranteeing that because He lives, others can and will live, too.
Some have expressed outrage that Jesus was overlooked. But it seems to me that angry expressions by Christians miss the mark. For if truth be told, Jesus has been pushed to the very margins of a supposedly Christian culture. He was not invoked because He is not known or widely recognized. And, even those we would have expected to name him hid their light.
How did this happen? Perhaps the Virginia Tech memorial service offers an instructive model. While the Muslim, Buddhist and Jewish speakers appealed unashamedly to their own religions’ distinctives, the Christian speaker opted for a generic tone that avoided identifying with Christ. His light was “hidden under a basket.” Christians should grieve rather than fume about this. But, above all we should not allow our hearts to adopt a complacent attitude.
A 1981 graduate of Virginia Tech lamented that the name of Jesus was missing from the public message. Dave wrote to a website the day after the memorial service, saying, “We cannot be timid about sharing the name of Jesus or giving reason for the hope within us … especially in times of crisis and in such public venues.”
As this column is being written, we are but days away from the celebration of the ascension of our wonderful Lord Jesus Christ. But, just before that wonderful event of Jesus rising into the presence of the Father, we have some of his very last words recorded in Matthew 28: 18-20. We do well to take his last words very seriously. He said, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
It matters not a pittance to me that Jews, Buddhists or Muslims care not to lift up the name of Christ. But, for his own people to remain mum in a day of national mourning is disgraceful. May God give strength to all who call themselves Christians. For our delightful duty calls us to be fervent, valiant and persevering light-bearers who openly proclaim Jesus Christ as light of the world. Let us do so audaciously.
And perchance on the occasion of a future national mourning, Jesus will not be among the missing.