When I walked into the first service on Sunday, robe and stole more or less neatly on and sermon in hand, folks were relieved to see me. I wasn't late, not technically. I mean, seriously, the service wasn't supposed to start for another two minutes. No sweat.
Well, there had been sweat, of the mental kind. It wasn't just that I had to recraft my sermon following the horrific events at Sandy Hook. It was that on Saturday, I rewrote it, and then set it aside, prayed and let it leave my mind, and then returned to it late Saturday. It felt stale and dead and formal, so I anguished it into what could have passed for completion. And then I got up early on Sunday morning, and again, it did not feel graceful or real or comforting. So I wrote and rewrote paragraphs, deleting some, recreating others, until it felt close enough the sermon I needed to hear myself.
As I wrote, I was also doing some simple math in my mind, a little subroutine that clacked away in the background of my consciousness. "If a pastor gets on his motorcycle and leaves his house in Annandale at 8:15 am, and his church is 37 miles away in Poolesville, what is the average speed that pastor will have to travel in order to arrive at his office five minutes before the church service begins at 9:30 am? What if he leaves at 8:20 am? How about 8:30?" That equation kept shifting, the numbers rising like the needle on my tach. I finally left at 8:47 am, my prayers for green lights and open roads mingling with the eager snarl of a willing 650 twin that almost never gets to play, my eyes on the digital clock on the instrument panel.
I arrived at my office at 9:25 on the dot, no muss, no fuss, and no riding done that would seem alarming to my mother. Or, rather, nothing more alarming than the mere fact of riding. Who says pastors don't need math?
It was, I hope, worth it...but it was worth it when it came to my duty to my calling. Great care and caution needs to be taken when you are endeavoring to articulate the Gospel into a tragedy. It must challenge, but it must also be good news. It must demand repentance, but offer grace. It must speak from your heart, but be guided by that which transcends you. It must call us towards that Kingdom that is Not Yet, but it must also be grounded in the reality of what is broken.
That, more than anything, is the burden so many pastors bore on Sunday. It's why so many of the pastors I'm connected to through social media were struggling so mightily late into the evening. If your heart is busted up and your mind is a mess, it's easy to fall back on old tropes and generic answers.
And those do damage. More on that later.