When a person dies, the family that remains often goes to one of two ways of processing this--some will internalize the grief, almost blaming themselves for what happened, and will experience deep struggle; while others will not even think about it, walking blindly through the experience and hoping to find solid footing on the other side. Scripture provides us with a middle way of responding to and expressing grief that strikes a balance between these two poles.
We find in Lamentations a poem of lament. Lament is good. Lament comes from a place of deep trust, where in that trust we are able to dig down into the depths of ourselves and express ourselves with openness, transparency, and honesty, the grief, sorrow, and pain that we feel. We tell it to God. We cry out to God. Laments, of which there are many in scripture, are the prayers of the powerless, the tears of the grieving, and the cries of the broken.
We lament this morning. In loss, we grieve. When a life is struck down suddenly, we wonder. We question. We express. We cry out. And we do all this in the context of the loving embrace of God, our Father, who hears our prayers, our cries, and our questions and who hurts with us, alongside us. He brings comfort and peace to the broken and hurting.
Thus, the poem of lament in Lamentations begins in grief and sorrow. People have lost what they once had. They have had what was close and dear to them taken away. Things are bleak and dismal. There is despair. Yet, despite this reality of sorrow and destruction, loss and grief, this poem moves to speak about God’s love, faithfulness, and great mercies.
The poem does not move too quickly past grief and sorrow, however. There is time to linger. There is time to express. There is time to feel. Through these honest expressions of grief, emerging out of this darkness, is a cry of hope and trust in God's mercy, love, and faithfulness. The poem finishes by turning back to God in trust and hope, the God who has heard us the whole time, who has walked alongside us, and who now gathers us together as his family.
In our lament over loss today, how do we act upon this? How do we remember? How do we process grief and sorrow? How do we celebrate the gift of God in the midst of sorrow? By remembering what was once given, by remembering the gift and the graces that came from the gift. In this case, the gift of our loved one, and when his life is celebrated, the gift of God is celebrated as well.
This is why the writer of Lamentations has a different take--one that reminds us that we are not alone, and in our grief, God remembers us, and gives mercy. But how is this mercy seen? How do we find God’s mercy? We find it in God, who is a God of comfort, as Paul referenced in our reading from 2 Corinthians, where he wrote that God comforts us in ALL of our troubles so that we can share comfort with others. When we grieve or suffer, we share in the sufferings of Christ, especially in sorrow, but we can comfort those who suffer with the comfort we receive from God. If we suffer, we will receive comfort. And comfort also comes from each other, as we remember, and as we love.
The apostle Paul himself experienced much suffering: arrests, beatings, being brought to the point of death, abandonment by friends. Yet his advice to people who are suffering, even grieving, is to come together. Your sharing together in suffering brings comfort to each other, and that comfort continues to enable you to comfort each other. Remember and honor our loved one by staying close to each other, strong and united as a family. Friends, come alongside this grieving family and comfort them. Share in their sorrows by listening and encouraging. Don't share "answers" that fail to give comfort about why this happened or what could have been done differently. Instead, honor one another. Love each other.
In this life, we go through seasons of suffering. We know something greater is out there. But in suffering, we comfort each other as best we can, finding strength to go on in the promises of God and in the love of family that we experience in our close relationships, a love that can be further strengthened by the comfort God the Father can give.