My heart has been heavy the past few days. This past Friday, known as Good Friday throughout the Western Christian world, I preached my first funeral sermon. It was, quite honestly, one of the most painful experiences of my life. It wasn’t painful because of a fear of public speaking or anything like that. While I don’t particularly enjoy preaching, I am more than used to it by now. The painful part was in the very fact that the chief mourner was a close friend and spiritual brother, a young man of 21 I have regularly hung out with and mentored for the past few months, and the deceased was his mother. Though “keeping it together” outwardly for the proceedings, the tangibility of my friend’s pain troubled my soul with the force of a hurricane, and this is rightly so. This is the way of life together:
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Rom. 12:15)
As the Church, we are brothers and sisters in Christ. We share each other’s celebrations and sorrows. When one has joy, we share in that joy. When one feels pain, we share that pain together. We lean on each other because we love one another (Jn. 13:34). We know this life was not meant to be lived alone. It was meant to be lived in community, in family. For almost five years, I have been part of a church community that truly strives to live this out. I have been part of both great celebrations and great sadnesses, including being comforted in some of my own. I have been very proud to see so many of my friend’s church community group come around him in the past week. It has likewise been encouraging to see him seek out comfort from me, our pastors, his community group friends, and our worship gatherings.
It gets hard. You have to know when to speak words of comfort. You have to know when it is good to just be quiet and be there. Sometimes the most immediate comfort is not to roll off a theological treatise on suffering and death, but to just be present for one another. There will come a time for wrestling with the tough questions, but there are also times when I would agree with Lucy from Peanuts, “A hug is better than all the theology in the world.”
It has been almost a week since my friend’s mother died. As he returns to college and adjust to a new normal, haunted by the cumbersome affairs of settling his mother’s estate, there are many aspects of grief that will still hit in the days, weeks, and even months ahead… times of sadness, confusion, and even anger. It’s overwhelming for anyone. But he has his God and his church family forever at his side, to encourage, to counsel, to love. We walk the weary road together until we reach our home, reminding each other of the Lord’s promises to us, even in this world shattered by the fall. We don’t know why, in God’s broad scheme of things, the tragedy of this particular death has happened, but we know that “God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
But it still hurts.
(Illustration: Edvard Munch, Death in the Sickroom, 1893)