Saturday, December 28, 2019

The Problem of Grief. . .

One of the by-products of the shift in funeral rites to celebrations of life is grief unanswered.  Though it may seem to comfort to tell the stories that would make us smile and to fill the service with things meaningful to the dead, the reality is that this rite only makes it harder to heal and harder to hope through the loss of those whom we love.  Instead of an answer to death, we have only its lingering shadow cast over our lives, our happiness, and our peace.  The celebrations of life promise more than they can deliver and instead of helping turn us to hope, they leave the Christian lost in the pain of loss and separation.  Instead of rendering death less real, they only make it more real and more powerful.

The Christian funeral rite takes us through the valley of the shadow but does not leave us there.  It confronts us with death, with the seriousness of death, and with its reign over human flesh.  But it moves us to Him who has answered death with His own life, planted in the ground as seed for three days before rising up triumphant.  This Jesus Christ has power to draw unto Himself all who die in Him so that death may not keep them -- anymore than it could keep Him.  He promises with His resurrection not a virtual life or an eternal memory or even a spiritual existence but a new and glorious flesh like His and a real life that has no end, where no tears are shed, where no illness threatens, where age and frailty can no longer steal strength and vigor, and where hearts know only perfect peace, contentment, and joy.

The great hymns of the faith offer us not simply a remembrance of the musical taste of the dead but the sung refreshment of this faith and hope.  With music the words are sung into our ears and out our lips until they can find firmer place within our hearts and minds.  And when we cannot find the voice to raise, those around us gladly loan us their hope by lifting up their own voices in song, singing back to the Lord the very hope He has sung to us in His Son, our Savior.

The whole rite takes place within the Lord's House, around the Word and Table of the Lord.  There we are reminded not simply of the life of the dead but how that life was nurtured and nourished by the Lord through His Word read, marked, and inwardly digested and His flesh and blood given and shed for us and present in this bread and cup set apart by His Word for His purpose.  We look to the familiar colors of stained glass, the images of the faith all around us, the crucifix (and cross) where the death that killed death is constantly before us, and the place where hope was born becomes the place where hope is refreshed in the face of death.

But most especially do we return to the House of the Lord after the funeral so that we may be as near to those whom we love as is possible until the great and grand reunion when Christ dawns His eternal day.  For there, right there, in the Divine Service the voices heard around us and the voices of the saints join with angels and archangels until only one sound is heard -- Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of Sabaoth!  Hosanna in the Highest!  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!  Hosanna evermore!  There gathered, the church in time with the church no longer bound by its constraints are one.  Part of it glimpsing the future and part of it knowing that future even better than mortal flesh can know.  Part of it seated at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb without end and part of it happy to feast upon its foretaste.  How can we not find comfort here!

So on this Day of the Holy Innocents, recalling the youngest and first martyrs of Christ, we remember that the cries were not without answer.  Christ came for them and He has come for us.  The grieving and those who mourn find more than the remembrance of the past but are confronted with the future. For those who die in Christ live evermore.  They have a future and we have something to look forward to as we await that day when the dusk and twilight finally give way to the eternal day.

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