Last week I attended a funeral for a classmate of mine from high school. I was running late for the funeral and barely had as spot to sit, I found an open spot next to some classmates. I quickly walked over and sat down. It remained silent as we waited for the family to walk in. During those moments of silence I thought about what the family must be going through as they walked toward the casket of their 29 year old mother, wife, daughter, sister, and niece. When someone close to your age passes away it’s hard not to personalize it and think about our own family in this situation. Thoughts flashed through my head of my family being in this situation with my kids, Hannah (4) and Caden (2), and my wife walking down the isle.
As the service progressed the pastor gave his message about the hope we have in Jesus Christ. I certainly think this is a message many people need to hear, but there was something that did not sit all that well with me that morning as the pastor continued to speak. He said something along the lines, “now although you are sad and filled with sorrow, remember that Melissa is happy and in heaven with her Father.” Again, I do believe this is something every family needs to hear when you lose someone so special. It gives us hope and encouragement. My concern about this is that it puts God in another place, instead of our place of suffering and frustration. It puts God outside of our reach until we experience death ourselves.
To me this is not reality. It is helpful to realize there is hope and life after death, I do not debate this. The family and friends sitting in those pews needed to hear that God is in control and God has Melissa in his arms, it brought me comfort when my grandfather passed away while I was in college, but we also need to hear that he understands our sorrow, emptiness and frustration. He understands our suffering. We are in God’s hands as well, because of Christ.
The first Christians insisted that when Jesus died on the cross, this wasn’t just another execution by the Roman Empire. They believed this was the divine, in flesh and blood, hanging there on the cross, bloody, thirsty, and suffering. A god who is not somewhere else- remote, detached, distant- but among us, feeling what we feel, aching how we ache, suffering like us. Is the cross God’s way of saying, “I know how you feel”?
As the family walked out of their pews after the service, I could not help but be moved by the scene as it was unfolding and remembering my own two kids and wife. I asked myself where was God in the suffering of the family, of the kids who lost their mom, of the parents who lost their daughter. I was answered in a way I will always remember and in a way that touched me very deeply. While they were walking out, Daylyn, Melissa’s 8 year-old daughter, jumped into her father’s arms and cried. To me this was a picture of God walking with Daylyn in her suffering, sorrow and frustration. Not answering her cries with words like “everything will be okay”, but with tears as he suffered with Daylyn. I cried tears with Daylyn, both of joy for the life Melissa lived as a mother, sister and daughter, but also tears of suffering for the loss of a beautiful person.
Within the despair of suffering, I am reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew:
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
Jesus says we are blessed when we mourn, he didn’t say blessed are those who only see my glory.
In Philippians we hear of Paul’s description of Christ and the suffering he endured:
“And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”
Jesus didn’t look past the cross, to the glory of the resurrection he knew was coming. He was fully in the suffering, sorrow, emptiness and frustration of the moment. Did he know he would conquer death and be raised to new life with God, sure, but that did not stop him from experiencing life at the depths of the pain of truly being human.
During this season of Lent, may we all be able to look at the sufferings of our lives and live into them, to remember that God does make all things new, but may we also remember that it is okay to feel frustrated and empty, knowing that Jesus is walking with us, suffering along with us, all the while in God’s hands. That is the beauty of the incarnation.