“Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” (James 4:9)
It was a funeral I didn’t expect with a family I didn’t know, the aftermath of a tragedy I couldn’t comprehend. Two men drinking at a party, the younger man dating the older man’s daughter. A friendly scuffle? Or was it pent-up resentment that never before spied from the shadows? A gun. A mock “shooting match.” Scared friends and family. Another shot in the barn out back. A smoking weapon in the older man’s hand; the younger man dead on the ground.
Someone in our congregation took his friend from work to our worship services. For three months he and his common-law wife and children came on Sunday morning. He told me that he needed God. He told me that he found God at our church. He told me that his life was changing.
Now he sat steaming in my office. It was his brother that was murdered last night, and he wanted to kill the murderer! First things first, however. I was the only “priest” he knew. Could I officiate at the funeral?
The spattered blood of death became the spattered ink of chatter in our community, gossiped out of every media newsstand. The shooter was a white male, part of a prominent “old” family in our area, a black sheep lingering at the scandalous end of former glory. The dead man swaggered in on another, newer ethnic wave. Hidden behind his charismatic charm was a long record of drugs, theft, drunkenness and sexual promiscuity.
Of course, the plot thickened. The man with the gun turned out to be brother-in-law to one of my best friends, a member of our congregation and someone I met with monthly in an accountability group. Their stories differed from that of the young brother who asked me to speak at the funeral. My friend and his family emptied their life savings into a fund to buy the best legal counsel for their obviously innocent relative. The angry brother, new Christian and newcomer to our worship services, didn’t know the unspoken protocol of “assigned seating” in our worship space, and sat right in front of the woman whose brother shot his brother. Now the newcomer worshipped with great urgency of heart, while the couple behind him and his common-law family fumed worshiplessly.
The funeral was horribly difficult. I knew too much and not enough. Where is God in all of this?
When we gathered around the casket in the cemetery I spoke a few words of committal, offered prayer, and then encouraged the brother to speak. He wept. He moved from shoulder to shoulder, shuddering grief on every neck. As the casket was lowered into the earth he jumped down on it and blanketed it spread-eagle with his body. He wailed a litany of loss and sorrow and vengeance that pummeled away any other sound. The world grew chill and still.
Weep, children, for the loss of innocence in this world!
Weep, brothers, for the cruelty of life!
Weep, mothers, for the children who die before their times!
Weep, fathers, for the pain that shatters polite society!
Weep, sisters, for the complex soap opera sponsored by life itself!
Weep, people of God, for a world gone mad, for a creation sucked into its own black hole, for the night of evil and the day of gray.
Weep for the reign of Death that lingers too long. Weep until the whisper of Easter shatters these heavy chains and restless souls begin again to hum the doxology.
“Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)