Daily Devotion Wednesday, November 4, 2015
This week the inspiration for our Daily Devotions will be drawn from the sermon that I preached this past Sunday for All Saints' Day--a sermon on grief, loss, hope, life, heaven, Heaven and resurrection. If you would like to read the transcript of that sermon, you can click HERE. The Scripture that we used as our guide was John chapter 11--the story of Jesus raising of Lazarus from the dead.
Today is my cousin Freddy's birthday. He would have been 46 years old today, had he not passed away this past summer. At his funeral some months ago, the weight of his passing landed on me not long before I was supposed to eulogize him. Shortly before the service began, I was standing before his casket, gazing down at him.
Time had not been kind to him, and he looked very little like the young man he'd once been. But then again, neither did I. The passing of time, the memories, the brevity of life---all of it hit me in the chest and I broke down.
I didn't want anyone to see me crying, for some reason, so I ducked into an empty room just off of the sanctuary of the church where the funeral was being held. The room looked familiar, and I knew I'd been in it before. I'd been in this same church for other funerals. My uncle's funeral was held there over twenty years ago. My grandmother was memorialized there as well, some years after.
It hit me that I'd ducked into the same room for the same purpose at least once--at my grandmother's funeral. I wondered if I had done the same at my uncle's memorial. I looked around at my surroundings and saw that the room where I was standing was where the choir practiced and warmed up before church. It was also a Sunday school class, and I could see notes on a white board from a discussion the class members had engaged in the previous week.
As I stood there, I realized something profound about loss and grief, and why those of us who put our faith in the Jesus story don't mourn as though we have no hope.
My family filled the church that day with our grief over the loss of my cousin, much like we'd done at the loss of my uncle and my grandmother. But I knew long after we had left, and taken the grief that filled the room with us, the space where we gathered in sorrow would be filled with worshippers, disciples and choir members ready to celebrate, ready to worship, to learn and to hear the Good News.
And this was beautiful to me.
When I officiate at funerals, I often read a prayer at the very end of the service as part of what Presbyterians call the Commendation. As I stood there in that room, I was reminded of this prayer, which I love because it sounds so defiantly hopeful--even in the face of death. Let me share a bit of that prayer with you today:
You only are immortal, the creator and maker of all.
We are mortal, formed of the earth,
and to earth shall we return.
This you ordained when you created us, saying,
“You are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
All of us go down to the dust;
yet even at the grave we make our song:
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
"Yet even at the grave we make our song..." How amazing is that? In a strange way, I felt like our grief was actually making more room in that space for the joyful praise that would follow later that week. I knew this was incredibly profound, but I couldn't really put my finger on it at the time.
I later discovered a poem by the great Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran that helped me to see the depth of Christian hope more clearly. Gibran wrote, "The deeper the sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain."
May you go out into the world today filled with wonder over the brevity and beauty of life. May you see the new spaces that your grief and loss have hollowed out so you can hold even more joy than you thought possible.
And may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, make you complete in everything good so that you may do God’s will, working among us that which is pleasing in God’s sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever!