coventry carol

Lully, thou little tiny child
By, by, lully, lullay…

In the Middle Ages, people would get together and act out Bible stories. Every town had a particular story to tell. Coventry, in the middle of England, played out Matthew 2, the coming of Jesus, the arrival of the magi–and the lesser-told story of Herod’s slaughter of the innocents. We don’t have much left of the play, except for one carol, one we don’t sing much around this time of year.

Oh, sisters, too, how may we do
For to preserve this day?

It’s written as a minor-key lullaby, the kind of song a mom sings to her little kids as they’re drifting into sleep. But it speaks of tragedy, of a massacre, all done in the name of the world’s evil powers as they tried to destroy the Son of God. They will sleep, yes, but “in that sleep of death, what dreams may come?” Their little lives are cut short unjustly, unfairly.

I wonder how many mothers in Bethlehem, in the wake of that, wondered why God had left them behind. I wonder how many mothers in Coventry, who had probably lost children to disease and just the hardness of life, heard that carol and wondered the same.

Then woe is me, poor child for thee
And ever mourn and stay…

There are some who say that this is, in fact, a lullaby from a mother to her child–the theory is that the singer is not just any Rachel mourning for her children, but Mary to her oldest Son. She knew what had happened, I’d wager, and grieved for those women. But moreso, I think she might have known what would happen thirty-odd years from that day, too. Her Boy, too, would be slaughtered under the darkness of the world, for our darkness, to bring light.

I’m not going to pretend to have answers about why what happened in Connecticut last Friday happened. Who can know why God allows innocent people to die, much less little kids. I do know this, though: Mental illness, easy access to guns, whatever–these are just the symptoms of a deeper problem that we can’t fix. And I also know that they are no match for a God who came and entered into our suffering with us. When God does one thing, I believe, He is doing a thousand things, and somehow I believe He will work this out for the good of those who love Him. I don’t know how or why. But He will.


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