July 26, 2012
People Who Mourn, People Who Hope
A reflection on calling by Lisa Rieck
I know I'm prone to be too serious, too analytical, too introspective. Case in point: some of the best dating advice I've received from friends, in the midst of processing a Date #3 and the relationship as a whole and our individual histories, passions and perspectives as I had perceived them thus far, was to go roller-skating on the next date. Roller-skating? I thought. Vague images of colored disco balls and Tiffany's "I Think We're Alone Now" emerged from the recesses of my brain, which had been right in the middle of an insightful analysis of the Boy's previous relationships and his (mis)understanding of hospitality . . .
Well, yes. Perhaps, three dates in, I was overthinking things a bit.
With that said, though, I think even the most fun-loving among you would agree that there are times when introspection and soberness are the most appropriate response to an event. And I'm pretty sure I'm safe in saying that death is such an event.
There's been plenty of physical death for me to ponder lately--two dear friends of my good friends, both moms in their forties, lost to cancer; a twenty-two-year-old in my church who collapsed in front of his fiancee and couldn't be resuscitated; moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado; my uncle, a Marine whose seventy-eight-year-old body couldn't take another battle. Watching people grieve, feeling overwhelmed by people's pain, attending my uncle's funeral, hearing about the funerals of others--these have all brought me face to face with a specific calling we have as followers of Jesus: "do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope" (see 1 Thess 4:13-18).
The instructions are very clear, but not overwhelmingly helpful. What does that look like? Tears are tears. There's no sign that appears over the heads of grieving Christians that says, "Mourning with hope, just FYI." Even Jesus' weeping, I imagine, outwardly looked the same as everyone else's. Bystanders at the scene of Lazarus's death, for example, noticed that Jesus was crying but saw no sign of hope in his tears, no rosy glow emanating from him that prompted them to hope for a miracle. If anything his tears seemed to bring about a new wave of grief for Lazarus's friends: they lamented that Jesus hadn't gotten there before Lazarus died, when he could have done some good. Now, they assumed, there was no hope for their friend who'd been dead for four days already.
What I've come to think is that our call to mourn with hope is fleshed out in what Jesus does after he weeps, in the midst of the weeping around him: He speaks the truth. Specifically, he calls people to believe. He acknowledges that his Father has heard him. And he speaks directly to dead, embalmed Lazarus, because he knows the life in the Son of Man is stronger even than the death that had temporarily claimed his friend. We mourn with hope when, in the midst of our tears and in defiance of the despair that tries to overtake us, we speak the truth about what should not be (cancer, heart failure, senseless shootings) and what is: Jesus is alive. His Spirit is continuing to restore his creation and bring his kingdom to earth. He has defeated death. And what should not be one day will not be, as Christ will be crowned the full and final victor over death and sin.
My cousin experienced this powerfully at the recent memorial service of a close friend of hers, Tammy, who had battled brain cancer for twelve years. At one point in the service, a man leaned across the aisle and asked a woman seated at the end of the row how she knew Tammy. When she replied that she didn't know Tammy, he then asked how she was connected to Mark, Tammy's husband. "I don't know anyone in their family," she replied. Thinking she was arriving for a regular church service, she had seated herself in the sanctuary only to find that she was at a funeral. "If this family can go through what they have and still have hope, there must be something more than what I've got in my life," she acknowledged. Tammy's husband and two girls, her extended family and church family and friends, mourned with hope at that service, declaring the goodness and faithfulness of God, the truth about Tammy being in his presence, and their hope in getting to see her again.
In a world full of physical and spiritual and emotional death--broken relationships, murder, disease, deception, jealousy and abuse--we are called to be people who declare the truth even as we mourn the darkness, day after day, until the day comes when our faith becomes sight: "And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death" or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away'" (Rev 21).