I wrote this in December 2013 after a former student in one of my schools was tragically killed in a car accident. May it bring hope in some of your most difficult moments.
One of the more difficult parts of working in a Church are the moments when a young person dies. I’ve had the privilege of “celebrating” the lives of many young people – children, teenagers, and young adults – leading prayer vigils, playing music, or sitting among family and friends as we mourn not only the loss of life – but also the hopes and dreams that they, and we, had for each young life.
Tomorrow morning, at a small Church in Hinton, AB, another young life will be “celebrated” – Claire Jones, an amazing young woman who I had the joy of working with at her high school up until her graduation a couple years ago.
You’ll notice that I’ve twice put the word “celebrate” in quotations. I do that, because it seems awkward to be celebrating when someone young has died in the same way as we’d celebrate the life of a ninety-something man or woman who lived well and died surrounded by friends and family. In those moments, though there may be sadness, there is also a gratefulness at the legacy that such a man or woman has left behind.
This is not so in the case of a young person who passes away. Even in the context of faith – with the hope of the resurrection clear in our minds – it seems wrong, somehow, any time that a parent watches over the burial of one of his or her children. That being said, faith does offer us something profound in this moment – in the moving story of Jesus and Lazarus from John 11:
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it.”
Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother.
Then Mary, when she came where Jesus was and saw him, fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; and he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”
-John 11:1-4, 17-19, 32-34
The very next verse is the shortest in all of Scripture, John 11:35: “and Jesus wept.” I think that these may be the most meaningful words which our faith can offer us at a difficult time like this one. Coming to the tomb of his friend Lazarus, surrounded by Lazarus’ family and friends who, like many of us, are grieving the loss of someone that they all loved, Jesus doesn’t tell a parable, quote a proverb, or offer a compassionate cliché. Simply, he sees his friends in pain, and he weeps with them.
When we grieve similarly,there are no words that will not be enough to ease the pain of this sort of loss. In the end, it is only a combination of time, of tears, of the strength of one another, and of prayer that will help the pain to lessen.
For those friends of Claire’s who might have wandered to this post – and for anyone else who is grieving in this way, there are four key thoughts I want to offer you in this difficult time:
1. Our God is most certainly someone who knows and understands the pain of losing a beloved child. The Gospel accounts tell of the sky going dark and the ground shaking at the moment of Jesus’ death; you might imagine the pain the Father felt seeing His beloved Son in death. As you grieve, do not be afraid to be honest and upfront with God; not only are His shoulders big enough to take the emotions you are feeling. He has lived this experience also, understanding more than you might imagine.
2. We often look for reasons why something like this might happen, but in the end, there are times when we need to recognize that it is indeed in mysterious ways that our Lord works. In His plan, in His time, it may someday make sense… and it may not. And this is okay.
3. There are many years of joy-filled memories of people like Claire. Like Mary did, I encourage you to treasure these things in your heart – for they are a gift that you do not want to lose.
4. Finally, coming back to the point at which I began: the Gospel we just heard speaks of a Jesus who weeps with us in our grief. Recognize His presence here, now, in the sorrow we experience together – and also, in the comfort we can have by knowing that it is the same Jesus who welcomes Claire with open arms to be with Him in Heaven.
“I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” -John 11:25-26