A Time to Mourn
Now when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home…They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great (Job 2:11-13).
I spent the weekend singing in the Pacific Chorale’s Summer Music Festival. It was a popular event. The 250-some available slots filled up within the first hour on May 1. When I registered, I had no way to anticipate the national mood in August. Neither did the music director, who chose Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem even sooner than I registered. But the timing could not have been better. I would not be surprised if your heart, like mine, has been heavy recently. We’re dealing with national grief over many tragedies, including the mass shootings of the past month.
|Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine:
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
|Rest eternal grant them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
But other sorrow is more personal. A former congregant wishes a happy birthday to her two-months-dead teenage son. A college dormmate voices the pain of the second anniversary since his eight-year-old’s death. A committee member resigns to focus on the cancer he attributes to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam.
|Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Do we spend our entire lives walking through the valley of the shadow of death?
|O Domine Jesu Christe, Rex gloriae,
libera animas defunctorum
de poenis inferni, et de profundo lacu :
ne cadant in obscurum. Amen.
|O Lord Jesus Christ, King of glory,
liberate the souls of the departed
from the pains of hell, and from the deep pit.
Let them not fall into darkness. Amen.
It’s not just the shadow of physical death, either. I knew that a college friend’s son had been murdered a few years ago. But just last week I learned that her marriage has now ended. It makes sense statistically. But hearing it still hurts.
qui tollis peccata mundi,
dona eis sempiternam requiem.
|Lamb of God,
who takes away the sins of the world,
grant them eternal rest.
And again, it may not be physical, but we who love the church grieve for what is no more. We struggle, helplessly it sometimes seems, to respond effectively to the losses. Is that a sign of our uncontrolled anxiety? Does it show us instead that we are facing something beyond our control—something with which we can only sit and wait? Or does it reflect a fear deeper still, a fear of disappearing into darkness?
|Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna
in die illa tremenda:
Quando caeli movendi sunt et terra:
dum veneris judicare saeculum per ignem.
|Deliver me, O Lord, from death eternal
on that dreadful day,
When the heavens and the earth shall quake;
when you shall judge the world by fire.
At a time like this, I hear little new. “Opinion leaders” retread old and tired ideas and wheel them around the same familiar streets. We clamor for action, too terrified to admit our helplessness against such a power(1). But there is nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastes knew that.
|Tremens factus sum ego et timeo,
dum discussion venerit,
atque ventura ira.
|I am seized by trembling, and I fear,
until the judgment should come,
and I also dread the coming wrath…
No, there is nothing new to say. So perhaps we should instead say something old.
|In paradisum deducant [te] angeli:
in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres,
et perducant te in
civitatem sanctam Jerusalem.
|May the angels lead [you] into paradise;
may the martyrs welcome you upon your
and lead you into
the holy city of Jerusalem.
Perhaps we should listen to the old words and sit shiva with those in pain.
|Chorus angelorum te suscipiat,
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere
aeternam habeas réquiem.
|May a choir of angels welcome you,
and, with poor Lazarus of old,
may you have eternal rest.
Just sit with the grieving. Listen to them. And mourn.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Thou art with me…
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus, Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God (II Cor. 1:3-4).
Mourn. And then believe.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death (I Cor. 15:26).
Somewhere along the Way—Forrest
(1 ) I am not arguing for doing nothing to stop preventable deaths. Neither am I promoting a pie-in-the-sky spirituality of kind words and no actions (see James 2:15-16). But we who eradicated polio and put a man on the moon are quick to imagine we can legislate and engineer our way out of all our existential fears. And sometimes, as a result, our public discourse sounds a lot like that of the Tower of Babel (see Genesis 11:1-9). Without the deeper hope of Christ’s work, all our work will be futile.Back