The last few weeks have been littered with intense episodes of sadness. First, we lost a young sherrif’s deputy, killed in the line of duty. A few days later, Pam and I lost a close friend to cancer. She was only 57. Two days later, 17 students were gunned down in their Florida school. It seems grief and sorrow comes in waves, but lately it has felt more like a tsunami.
In the midst of this sadness, we hosted two funerals for our fallen brother, and 19 worship services in a two-week stretch. We’ve helped console a grieving city, offering hope and joy where there seemed to be be none. We’ve prayed, read aloud the Psalms, sang hopeful songs and sat quietly and listened to those who have lost so much.
Pastors and church leaders have wrestled with this tension for centuries. We have the sacred duty to point out the good news in a world that is found lacking. We have something to offer that is real and holy, but we have no magic formulas to make the pain go away. Grieving is a journey and shortcuts are not allowed.
In John 11, Jesus himself loses Lazarus, a really close friend. Once Jesus arrives at the family home, he is met by two sisters who had just lost their brother. Martha had questions and she was a bit angry at Jesus for not being there to prevent the loss of life. Jesus tells her “I am the resurrection” – he is the answer. Mary is another woman in the story and all she had was tears. The scriptures tell us that Jesus wept with her. Some days, we are Martha, with lots of questions. Some days, we are Mary, with lots of tears. Jesus is ok with both.
I’m telling the story of our last two weeks to remind my pastor friends that church services must allow for laments, sadness and sorrow. It’s ok to mourn with those who mourn. It’s ok to hold hands and cry with those who have lost loved ones. It’s human to grieve.
Our worship services are usually joyful and inspirational. We laugh a lot at New Life and we have real rejoicing when we sing, preach and pray. We’re also aware that not every worship service has to feel like a Disney production. The gathered church actually has the miraculous mandate to walk with people along the road of suffering until they get through the valleys of death. We’ve learned to embrace people in their place of weeping but not leave them there.
We’re resurrection people who have been brought back to life. All of us who follow Jesus have the same story to tell. We were dead in our sins, but we found grace and a God who was pursuing us. We were once in darkness, but we now live in the light. That’s why we see sadness and sorrow differently. We know it’s not final and not the end. We know joy does come in the morning.
One day soon, Jesus has promised to return and set things right. Violence and crime will cease and the Prince of Peace will rule. Cancer will claim no more victims. We believe this. That’s why our hope is anchored in something that cannot be shaken by bad news. We’ve learned to sing about the morning while living at midnight.
I leave you with the words of Jesus, spoken to his devoted followers days before his own death and resurrection.
It will seem like all hell has broken loose—sun, moon, stars, earth, sea, in an uproar and everyone all over the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom, the powers-that-be quaking. And then—then!—they’ll see the Son of Man welcomed in grand style—a glorious welcome! When all this starts to happen, up on your feet. Stand tall with your heads high. Help is on the way!” Luke 21-25-28 MSG