I’m not as young as I used to be. The sorrows of others weigh on me more profoundly. Perhaps it is the accumulation of the years. Perhaps it is its resonance with my own sorrows.
A young man in the parish died on or shortly after Easter. He was 26. I would love to write about my conversation with his parents today, but I would not violate their confidence. What I will say is what I myself feel – faith seems like such a thin thread in the midst of such anguish.
The LORD is “my rock and my redeemer” exults the psalmist. But in the swirling emotions of an experience like this, the high stone fortresses – the impenetrable caves in the cliffs of the Judean desert – seem not to be our experience. Floodwaters seem more like it.
6 I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
7 My eyes waste away because of grief. (Psalm 6)
Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.
2 I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
3 I am weary with my crying;
my throat is parched. |
My eyes grow dim. (Psalm 69)
We are the prophet lamenting the fall of Jerusalem. We are Mary at the foot of the cross.
A chant from the book of Lamentations begins the service of Tenebrae on Good Friday evening in our parish. As we come together, sitting in the dark and bare sanctuary, with only the shadow of the large wood cross before us, the plaintive cry from Lamentations goes out. But slowly a light enters, the tall candle used in evening prayer that reminds us of God’s gift of light. From that light other candles are lit and we hear the words of Jesus about light that cannot be hidden. And at the end of that evening, as the seven last words Jesus spoke from the cross are heard amidst the prayers of psalms, with each word of Jesus another candle is extinguished until only the one remains. That final candle is carried away into the sacristy, the room falls into utter darkness, and the door slams like the door of the tomb slamming shut. Desolation.
But the light returns. The darkness cannot extinguish it. The candle still shines reminding us that God’s answer to Good Friday is Easter.
I called faith a thin thread in such times of grief – but it is not faith that is thin and frail, it is our hearts. They are swept away by the floods of our emotions. But God’s promise abides: “Jonathan was mine before he was born. I proclaimed him mine when I pulled him out of the floodwaters of his baptism. I have joined him with Christ. Whatever floodwaters engulfed him in life, he has died with Christ (and Christ with him and for him) that he might live with Christ.”
The promise abides. “The gifts and the call of God are irrevocable,” says Paul. Every affirmation of the Biblical text is of God’s faithfulness – regardless of our own.
The promise abides. It’s not quite the promise that we shall all be together again in some new place called heaven. It is rather the declaration that the author of life has claimed us – and before him death has no ultimate power. The darkness cannot extinguish the light. Death cannot hold. The grave is empty. And whatever the resurrection may mean, it does means this: death does not prevail. Our lives are not ultimately governed by our brokenness, but by God’s wholeness. The destiny of the world is not sorrow but joy.
It is hard to keep ourselves in that promise in the days of our emptiness. But it is the rock upon which we will find ourselves standing when the floodwaters recede.
Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.
2 From the end of the earth I call to you,
when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I;
3 for you are my refuge,
a strong tower against the enemy.
4 Let me abide in your tent forever,
find refuge under the shelter of your wings. (Psalm 61)
5 For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him.
6 He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; (Psalm 62)