Shirley and I just returned from our vacation to the East Coast last weekend. In my efforts to catch up with what’s been happening at the church while I was away I picked up the latest church bulletin. What I read stopped me in my tracks. In the prayer & praise section that Donna Moss writes each week there were five notices of people who had recently lost a close family member. Five! As I read them I whispered to myself, “so many”.
I thought back over the past few months and realized that this has truly been a season of loss for our community. I felt we needed to just sit with that for a while. This didn’t seem like something that we could just blow past without pause. When I got back in the office I talked with Donna and Jeff about this and how we can recognize this when the congregation gets back together again this Sunday.
Donna told me that we’ve had no fewer than 25 of our church families experience the death of a close family member so far this year. 17 of those are just since the spring. We all know that it takes time to come to terms with grief and loss. That means there are many, many people in our congregation who are freshly in the midst of that sorrowful journey through the valley of the shadow of death.
How does one sit with such a sense of loss? How do we reconcile our gospel of the Kingdom come, with the brokenness of the world that so easily touches us? Sarah Bessey writes about this:
"Our narratives celebrate the simple wins and victories, not the complex heartache. We like our testamonies to end on a high note: and they lived happily ever after. Evil was defeated. Good won. The heroes faced conflict and were victorious. The end. Turns out life isn’t a Disney movie."
Bessey describes grief as a “thin place” – a place where the walls between us and the eternal are so very wispy and permeable. The irony is, at times like these when our hearts are yearning for something from God that can help us, they are also broken – and quite possibly questioning the goodness of God altogether. So how do we hold it together?
We hold the gospel and the reality of our loss together with lament. Lament is defined as an expression of sorrow, and it’s a biblical concept. We find it salted within the human experiences voiced by the psalms – and we especially find it in Jeremiah’s mournful response to the destruction of Jerusalem – in the book called “Lamentations”.
Jeremiah had witnessed, and experienced terrible atrocities and suffering. His response was to bring all of that raw emotion to the Lord. He expressed it vividly. He wrestled with what had happened and why. He wrote:
I remember my affliction and my wandering,
The bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
For his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself:
‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’
So how do we sit with one another during this season of loss at Forest Brook? We do so my pausing, and recognizing the hurt and sorrow in our midst. We allow it to express itself and name it for what it is – grief. And we wrap our arms around one another and say, “It’s okay – you’re not alone – we’re in this together and God will help us through it.”