Last week, I was privileged to be the celebrant at a wedding. The groom was in his 80’s and the bride in her 70’s. Both widowed after long and happy marriages, they had found each other and clicked immediately.
I met them and listen to their love stories and to their faith stories.
Two honorable people, loving God, loving each other, having experienced death, now offer life to one another in the promises of the marriage covenant.
At the ceremony, the power of their love radiated from them both. Holding back my own happy tears, I led the two of them as they exchanged vows and rings in the presence of friends and family.
What a picture of the resurrection!
This last week I also learned that a clergy colleague, a young woman whom I admire greatly, lost a baby half way through a much celebrated and utterly untroubled pregnancy.
Later I received an email from a treasured church member informing me of the death of a sister, just 34, and her unborn child of six months gestation. No cause known, no warning. Her young husband woke and heard her make a strange noise. He began CPR, ambulance on its way. Baby born by emergency c-section, could not survive. Both gone. Just like that.
This friend asks, “What can I say to my daughter? She has prayed for a miracle of resurrection all week. Yesterday, we went to the funeral. How can I help her through this?”
The Sunday before, during “Stump the Pastor” time, this question came up, “What do you say to someone who has just lost a child?”
I looked out into the congregation of people I know and love and saw stricken faces everywhere. Too many among us have suffered this way, losing infants to adult children.
One thing I know: never say, “God needed another angel in heaven.” All that does is portray a cruel and powerless God who inflicts unbelievable agony to satisfy God’s own lusts and wants.
The other thing I know: there are no words that bring comfort. All we can do is offer our own grief and tears. The Scriptures tell us to weep with those who are weeping.
We can offer presence, and a safe place for people to work out grief. Grief usually includes being very, very angry at God and expressing that anger in ways that may be shocking–but which God can take and we need not to shut down.
There is always a Sunday resurrection, but it is not always possible to see it in the midst of our Friday crucifixions. Sometimes we just have to let the pain wash over us. Friends can keep us from drowning, but we’re still the ones who have to swim in those deep and dark waters.
I went to the garden early one morning last week. Soon I shall have to give up on most of it and let the summer heat do what it does. I’ve picked the last of the cucumbers, so those vines go into the compost pile. I have some lovely melons growing, so will try to keep those alive until they ripen. But for the sake of water conservation, I need to let other things die and wait for the rebirth.
I see the cycle of births and deaths in my own life, in the death of dreams and hopes and plans and in the rebirth of new dreams, new hopes, new plans. To be saddened and experience huge grief by those deaths is human and normal; to be destroyed or crushed by those deaths denies the hope of new life that really is all about us.
So, I let both sadness and joy accompany me, letting them inform each other even as they hold each other in tension.
God, in ways I am incapable of understanding, stays present in all.