Sermon: Feast of the Holy Innocents 2023

Jeremiah 31:15-17

Revelation 21:1-7

Matthew 2:13-18

Psalm 124

The Collect

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

A voice was heard in Ramah,

wailing and loud lamentation,

Rachel weeping for her children;

she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.

I usually have a whole thing that goes into my sermons about what the text meant to the original audience, how we might get into their heads and understand some new aspect of the story. 

I could talk about the parallels Matthew is drawing between Jesus and Moses. I could talk about empire. I could talk about the fear of kings and leaders. How Herod’s position as king was so tenuously balanced on the tide of empire that even the rumor of a challenge to the throne was enough of an excuse for a massacre. I could make comparisons between the leaders in Israel and Palestine now and what happened in the past. But not today.

A voice was heard in Ramah,wailing and loud lamentation,

Rachel weeping for her children;she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.

There is no excuse for a massacre. There is no understanding of historical social context that would excuse Herod’s actions. What explanation can there even be that makes the death of children ok?

I do not have an answer to peace in the middle east. I don’t have an answer to dead children.

The answer given by Jeremiah, by Matthew, is lament. Wailing and loud lamentation. Rachel, one of the mothers of the sons of Israel, weeping for her children. Refusing to be consoled because her children are no more.

I’m not going to offer a bandaid consolation that we will be reunited in eternal life with all the precious children of God killed in Israel and Palestine. I do believe that it true. But is is not a consolation to a bereaved mother who is missing their child now. Or a child who has lost their family now. 

A voice was heard in Ramah,wailing and loud lamentation,

Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.

I believe that God is with every person grieving a loved one. I believe that God grieves over the death of a child in the same tender and furious and heart wrenching way that any Palestinian or Israeli mother does. When Rachel weeps for her children who are no more, God also weeps for those children. Every child, every human being killed in this war, is in fact a child of God. God laments for God’s children.

What I can offer in this moment is solidarity in the lament. God laments with Rachel. I also lament every child of God hurt or killed in this war.

A voice was heard in Ramah,wailing and loud lamentation,

Rachel weeping for her children;she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.

I also can refuse to be consoled. I can refuse to be consoled with excuses about terrorism and imperialism and inevitable casualties. I can refuse to give in excuses based in fear. There is no consolation, there is no excuse for dead children. I can refuse to be consoled. I can refuse to look away from the grief and pain. 

I don’t mean to watch videos of the horrors of war on endless loop on the television or Instagram. I don’t think that is healthy for anyone’s soul. But to ignore what is happening is a false consolation. The grief, the horror, the need for lament, is still present. I refuse to be consoled into believing that the grief of parents over dead children is necessary. I refuse to be consoled into believing that the horrors of war are necessary. True consolation comes from true peace, not from looking the other way when horrors happen. 

A voice was heard in Ramah,wailing and loud lamentation,

Rachel weeping for her children;she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.

It sometimes seems inevitable, this war, the deaths of innocents. Matthew tells of one massacre and quotes Jeremiah talking about another massacre, and that same lament is repeated century after century until today. It feels like here is nothing to be done, that it has always been this way and so it will always be their way.

I do not have a solution to get us to world peace. But I can lament in solidarity with those who weep. I can refuse to be consoled with excuses. 

A voice was heard in Ramah,wailing and loud lamentation,

Rachel weeping for her children;she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.

We are now going to join together in prayer. As we near the end, there will be a time of reflective silence. If you would like to come forward and light a candle you are invited to do so at that time. 

We will conclude our time of prayer together with a short litany style prayer. After our concluding sentence, there will again be time for silent reflection. In the booklets, there are the prayers and petitions of the Great Litany that might give language to some of the fears and laments in our current moment. 

As we join together in prayer, let us affirm our faith with the words of the apostles creed.

Leave a Reply