There are some who are comforted by the story of the Massacre of the Innocents. They take comfort in believing that infants so senselessly murdered will be remembered for thousands of years to come.
There are others who can’t bear to think about it.
“It just feels too morbid to talk about Herod massacring all these children,” said the Rev. Dr. Nina George-Hacker. “And then God just put it on my heart that this is the perfect occasion to hear a hopeful word from scriptures and offer our prayers for these other innocent children.”
And so on Friday evening, the date of the annual Feast of the Holy Innocents and exactly two weeks after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, three people sat in the pews at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Cobleskill to hear the story and pray for the slaughtered children of Newtown, our own generation of “Holy Innocents.”
Herod the Great, the Roman-appointed ruler of the Jews in 40 B.C., was a man of “great barbarity” who was continually in fear of losing his throne. When the Wise Men reported that an infant had been born the King of the Jews, Herod ordered the slaughter of all male children less than two years old in Bethlehem and beyond, according to the Bible.
The massacre is described in the Gospel of Matthew, though to this day historians can’t find definitive proof it occurred. But over the millennia, the Church has honored the slaughtered children as martyrs in a ceremony known as the Feast of the Holy Innocents.
In George-Hacker’s original sermon, she planned to tell the congregation that every age has seen “a nutcase who wants to kill little children.”
Instead, she spent most of her sermon preaching about God’s compassion.
“We could not imagine what evil could motivate a man to massacre defenseless, innocent children,” she said. “What we may not know is that God weeps, too. But unlike us, he is not helpless against evil and mayhem. For God is a god of mercy and justice. And he has promised that all who do evil or do harm to a child will surely receive what they deserve whether in this life or the next.”
The Rev. Pacia Ferrell Vamvas, of nearby Lawyersville and Sharon Reformed Churches, joined the rector in prayer at the front of the church.
Several Christian churches across the world held similar ecumenical prayer services Friday evening, which likely bore additional significance in light of the Newtown slayings.
Vamvas read aloud the names of the 26 victims, pausing after each one.
“People are just very angry with God,” she said after the service ended. “Where was God in all of this? But the point is that God is here to help us through our sorrows. And God is weeping, too.”
St. Christopher’s was quiet Friday evening. The church has never held a Holy Innocents service. The pews were largely empty.
George-Hacker believed it was because her congregation couldn’t bear to reflect on the massacre.
“They told me they would cry through the whole thing,” she said. “But sometimes we need to do that with our family of faith where we don’t feel helpless and hopeless. It’s OK to cry in church.”