Wednesday, February 28, 2018

We Shall Be Comforted

In our church family in the last few weeks, three of our beloved older members have died. Tonight was the third, a dear friend who, although he was advanced in age, was much too young to leave us. Sitting in my grief, I couldn't make myself go to bed, so I began rifling through old files in order to delete documents I didn't need any more (staying busy with one portion of my brain while grieving with another). I came across this short piece I had written some years ago in response to one of my friend Erika's sermons. I don't know if I ever used this piece elsewhere; at least I can find no record of having done so. But it brought me comfort to read it tonight. If you are grieving or suffering, perhaps it will bring you comfort, too. I bring it to you unedited from the original composition.

We Shall Be Comforted

I have been thinking about Pastor Erika’s sermon several weeks ago on the beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted,” and her assertion that mourning what is wrong with the world—death, sin, waste, abuse, pain—is a necessary step to receiving comfort, the comfort that only Jesus brings, a comfort of ultimate hope.

            We understand, to some extent, the suffering caused by the sinful choices of humanity.  But suffering seems to be the very fabric of the natural world, too.  The reality is that for some to live, others must die.  For me to have dinner, some plants and animals gave their lives.  Annie Dillard in her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek notices the ridiculous measure of death in nature.  For a few spiders to live, thousands more will die.  When trees grow, they feed off the dead remains of previous plant and animal life.  Female praying mantises eat their mates during the act of reproduction!  When Jonah was sitting under a shady vine waiting for Nineveh to be destroyed, a worm came along (at God’s command) just doing his worm-thing, trying to get some lunch out of the vine, and the vine withered.  “The Circle of Life” tries to prettify it, but lions do hunt down and eat other animals, and those animals suffer.  Death is the way of life here on earth.  Do we mourn that?

            Yes, we do.  The necessity of death is what we mourn.  We rightly long for something different, better, more whole, something that recognizes the goodness, the God-ness, in all of creation, not just humanity.  But when Christians mourn, we shall be comforted.  We will see a day when the lion lies down with the lamb, when death is no longer necessary for life, when we are not subject to aging nor surrounded by the detritus of decay.  Our darkness turns to dawning, as the song goes, because God has promised us a different kind of life.  That life has been planted within us, so sometimes we sense the gruesome disconnect between what is and what shall be, but someday we will see “face to face.”

            For us to live, Jesus Christ had to die.  But he did not remain in death; instead, he conquered it.  The poet John Donne said, “And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die!”  Jesus showed us the way to that new kind of life, and now because we have tasted it, we know what’s coming.  Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time to mourn and a time to be comforted.  Today we mourn, but that time to be comforted is coming; it is God’s promise to us, sealed in the resurrected Jesus.  We mourn, but we shall be comforted. That is the ultimate hope in which we live.

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