Christianity has saints and martyrs, the “great cloud of witnesses” who stand in witness before the throne of heaven, and intercede with God for the sins of humanity.
Nine martyrs, including a state senator, a doctor, two priests, have entered into that company today, as martyrs of the faith — may they not rest in peace, but grow in power, as gadflies to the comfortable, as pacifiers to the violent, as scolds to the resistant, as a burden on the hearts of those who failed to protect them.
The Episcopal Church, in its liturgical wisdom, has a form of prayer called a “collect” in which you praise almighty God by one of his names of power, call to mind a biblical event, call to mind a historical event, and then ask for blessings or change on the basis of those two events, with a final appeal to the Son through the Holy Spirit.
“Almighty God, who liberated the Israelites from captivity and brought them to freedom in a land of milk and honey, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and who raised up the martyrs to dwell in the company of the saints forever: Look with favor upon your servants Cynthia, Susie, Ethel, DePayne, Clementa, Tywanza, Daniel, Sharon, and Myra, and all other American martyrs, who were slain by the arm of injustice, and the clenched fists of tyranny and oppression. Bend the arc of the universe, Lord, toward justice, and quickly; crush the adder of racism and the viper of brutality beneath thy feet; and shield the widow and the orphan under thy wing. In the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who drove the unjust from the temple with a scourge, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.”
I’ve seen many efforts to change victims’ identity after the fact, from Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, and on and on and on. Enough. Let’s claim a different identity for the shooter’s targets this time — saints and martyrs for the sacred causes of peace and life and dignity.