July 26th of last year, my world came to a shattering halt. My very much loved husband of 30 years, my pastor for 16 of those, suffered a massive heart attack, dying at the age of 56.
My experience with death and grief, up to that day of soul amputation, had been limited to grandparents, older aunts and uncles, in- laws, who were all well into their later years with varying health conditions. Those loved ones were grieved in their own ways, but it was more rejoicing for their restoration and healing, obtained in the presence of Christ. It was expected. It was the end we all know is coming, but never really talk about.
But then, my soulmate, (I know pastors roll their eyes at that one, MINE also did and he was married to me!) died. We tend to think of the soul and body as separate organisms. The soul wearing the body like a meatsuit. But it’s not. Death is a catastrophic severing of soul from body. Death, brought about by sin, annihilates. For the left behind, a sort of disembowelment, where we have to keep on living.
Unexpected. Shocking. Devastating. Not OK. It’s supposed to happen to OTHER people.
As I went through the motions of his funeral, interment, upheavals of all kinds – I experienced all those moments of platitudes and awkwardness when nobody knows what to say. So, they say all manners of things. They are forgiven. If, for no other reason, because humanity prefers to ignore all aspects of death – ours, our loved ones, interacting with those being swallowed up by its fallout. How could they know what to say? We talk about life, family, Christ, and skip right over death and dying, gloss right on over to Heaven. (Also, not our final destination. There’s a new Heaven and Earth coming, Jerusalem! But I digress…)
Many, being faithful brothers and sisters in Christ, repeatedly reminded me of what God says to us in “times like these”. A frequent one was 1 Thessalonianss 4:13 “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”
Uh-huh. What exactly is that supposed to look like when you’ve been shredded down to your core and you’re hemorrhaging from the amputation? Hope? Love? Life?? When your mustard seed of faith has been ground into a powder, it is breathtakingly difficult to articulate prayer, let alone experience what we would normally define as hope. How can a Christian confess hope in a merciful, loving God amidst suffocating suffering?
When your sight is blurred by seemingly endless tears, it’s in the seeing Him work through His people, providing for your needs spoken or unsaid, seeing His love in their actions.
When all you can do is scream at God, it’s in the being amazed at how your adult children still honor their earthly father, by being in prayer and worship of their Creator. Your lapsed Lutheran, writing lyrics to a song he wrote, theologically sound, talking about death and faith. Your daughter planning the first grandchild’s baptism, at which her father was supposed to officiate, knowing there will be many tears. Your eldest attending church with you, putting his arm around your shoulder to console you, just as his father would’ve done.
When Divine Service consists of staring at the floor because you cannot bear looking at the altar without your favorite pastor presiding, or hearing the hymns you can’t even read, it’s in the listening to His Word. It’s in the teaching and preaching and the liturgy, knowing He is faithful and cannot lie, and your feelings about anything can’t change that.
When you can’t even remember to breathe and swallowing is difficult, it’s in the receiving the divine gifts of mercy and forgiveness in Christ’s holy Body and Blood.
When it’s not the dying you’re afraid of but rather the living, it’s in the knowing that regardless of the tsunami of emotions that infest the grieving process, His Holy Spirit accomplishes His holy will.
Grieving with hope looks a whole lot like brokenness, turmoil, unspeakable heartache. Grieving with hope is still grieving. The hope is in the knowledge that although you’re being dragged into every new tomorrow, it’s God that’s pulling you. The Creator of the Universe. Carrying YOU.
Happy birthday, baby.
Jesus is still King, but second to Him isn’t a bad place to be.