Among my favorite musicals is Les Miserables. One of the most poignant moments in the show occurs after the failed uprising intended to overthrow the corrupt government. One of the student revolutionaries, Marius, survives an attack by the government which has killed most of his friends. As he revisits the place where they had met to dream about a future of freedom, he looks over the empty chairs and tables, and mourns.
There's a grief that can't be spoken,
There's a pain goes on and on,
Empty chairs at empty tables
Now my friends are dead and gone.
I couldn't help but think of that song as I read the news about the memorial that has been established in Sutherland Springs. The sanctuary at First Baptist Church where the mass shooting happened a week ago Sunday, has been cleaned and emptied of the bloody remnants of that attack. It has been painted a pristine white, and white chairs, twenty-six of them, one for each victim, have been placed in the exact spots where each of the murdered men, women and children fell. On the back of each chair each victim's name has been painted in gold. And on each, a rose. Empty chairs representing
friends who are dead and gone. It is a powerful set of symbols.
"Here they sang of tomorrow," intones Maurius in Les Miserables, "And tomorrow never came."
But there is a difference for the people of First Baptist Church. And not because those who died were far from being French revolutionaries. For the people of First Baptist Church believe that while a tomorrow on this earth never came, a new tomorrow did indeed dawn for each one of the slain. A new tomorrow beyond pain, beyond grief. As their pastor said on the following Sunday, the folks at Frist Baptist Church believe that their loved ones are "dancing with Jesus."
Make no mistake, there is certainly grief here and now for the survivors, pain and grief that will go on and on. And while empty white chairs may help ease the sorrow, it will not eliminate. No more than the genuine hope in the life to come will erase the hurt, the ager and even the guilt. No doubt some of those good folks can sing with Maurius, "Oh my friends, my friends, forgive me, that I live and you are gone." But there is also faith, and hope and love.
Yes, empty white chairs and empty hearts. But hearts touched with a measure of hope.