T-shirt memorial to gun violence victims
(MCC Photo/Agnes Chen)

A t-shirt memorial to 201 victims of gun violence in Philadelphia in 2013.

“A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem; do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’’” – Luke 23:27-29

An ecumenical and interfaith community reflected upon Jesus’ sobering words during a recent vigil in Philadelphia. This vigil, which took place on Good Friday, was a space for families and community members to remember the 201 residents of Philadelphia who died as a result of illegal gunfire within the past year.

At the site of the vigil, a T-shirt memorial was set up to represent these victims, who ranged from ages 2 to 75. The image of the cries of the women who witnessed Jesus on his way to the crucifixion was hauntingly similar to the lament of those who have lost their loved ones due to gun violence in Philadelphia and the rest of the United States.

While the vigil was powerful, clergy members and parents who shared their testimonies warned against stopping at lamenting the tragedy of gun violence in this nation. The same grieving individuals are using the prayers and energy wrought by their suffering to collectively address gun violence through their spheres of influence, by prayerfully urging local gun shop owners to sign a code of conduct, performing non-violent protests and civil disobedience in gun shops, and contacting members of Congress about the epidemic of gun violence in their communities. They are also urging us to do the same.

While faith-based and other grassroots activists are building a movement on local and state levels, action by the U.S. Congress and the Obama administration to address gun violence remains severely inadequate and stalled.

To effectively curb gun violence, federal policymakers must have the courage to legislate and execute laws that would:

  • eliminate illegal gun trafficking and straw purchasing
  • pass universal background checks on all gun transactions
  • ban firearms with unnecessary and harmful military-grade elements that have little to no hunting or sporting use, and
  • support mental health services and research on how to holistically address gun violence in this nation.

As I gazed at the T-shirts that were displayed at the vigil, I realized how similar their shapes were to the cross to which Jesus was nailed on the original Good Friday. Despite the evils that Jesus bore on the cross, violence was ultimately defeated by the prevailing power and love of Jesus. As we celebrate Easter, may we continue to follow the way of Jesus, by rebuking violence in our lives, communities and nation, and participating in the Kingdom work that turns all forms of death into life.

Printed with permission from Third Way Café.