This morning, like many churches, we had a rousing rendition of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. The choir was maxed out and the sound beautiful. There was one big difference in this Hallelujah Chorus and it leads me to a lot of questions, most of which I have no answers to.
Twenty years ago today, December 18, 1991 was a Wednesday and our choir gathered that evening to rehearse the Hallelujah Chorus that they intended to sing for Christmas. But one of the choir’s most dependable members wasn’t there and nobody could figure out why he missed practice. He also didn’t go home that night. The next morning they found Brad Carson in his car parked outside his pharmacy with his head blown off.
The pharmacy hadn’t been robbed. The killer took his wallet but didn't use his credit cards. The police thoroughly investigated Brad’s business dealings for anything amiss. They examined his personal life to see if there was some secret, seedy, second life nobody knew about. There was simply no reason for anyone to kill him. The police never found the gun. They eventually had to admit they didn’t have even a good lead and ended up with some theory that it might have been a gang initiation. The case remains unsolved to this day.
There wasn’t a member of our church who wasn’t touched by the tragedy in some way. We all held his wife and daughters while they cried out “why?”
That’s a question none of us have ever been able to answer.
I stopped by the church office a couple of days later to see if there was anything I could do to help. The pastor told me he needed someone to go with him to talk to Brad’s parents and explain to them why the choir intended to sing the Hallelujah Chorus at their son’s funeral. Ron didn’t know how the idea would be received.
Thankfully, it wasn’t a hard sell. As grief stricken as they were, they understood that the song was written about Christ’s resurrection and was indeed very appropriate at a witness to the resurrection marking the end of Brad’s mortal life.
The next 20 years were spent in healing and moving on. And we spent time answering the question, “How on earth does a family move on after a tragedy like that?”
They really didn’t have much choice. Day by day, they got out of bed in the morning and moved on. His wife re-married a few years ago to a wonderful man who hasn’t even tried to replace Brad but has taken his own place in our congregation. Brad’s daughters married and had children. He has four grandchildren now, one who is named after him. And they were all in church today.
Why are some men allowed to grow old and others aren’t? Why are some men allowed to walk their daughters down the aisle and hold grandchildren while others aren’t? I looked around today at those of us who knew Brad and wondered why we are still here and he isn’t. And I can tell you that not one of us is any more deserving of life than the other. Brad and his family were cheated out of something very valuable that the rest of us have received through no accomplishment of our own. And we all understand Grace a bit better today.
There are just a lot of questions I don’t know the answer to. But here is one final question and I do know the answer to that one.
How does anyone manage to get through an experience like this? How did Cindy and the girls manage to put one foot in front of the other every day? How did our congregation manage to give them the love and support they needed in a way they needed it? How did we all emerge with faith in God after something like that?
And the answer was clear this morning: Only by the grace of God; only by daily hand-holding by the Holy Spirit who moved within us, who joined us to God's Self and to each other. Once you wrap your brain around that one the only response possible is to sing the Hallelujah Chorus 20 years later. For the Lord God Omnipotent Reigneth. Evil may walk among us but God always gets the last word.
All glory be to God. Hallelujah! Amen.