Singing alleluia at the grave

Yesterday I attended a funeral.  It was beautiful.  And it was sad.  The lovely young woman whom we were committing to God's care was twenty-seven.  She had recently come back home to live with her parents, and there she died.  We sang an Easter song (The Strife is O'er) near the beginning and Ode to Joy near the end, and in between heard again the words from Ecclesiastes.  A time for war, a time for peace; a time to keep silence and a time to speak; a time to be born, a time to die.  And at the end we heard that most beautiful prayer, "we humbly beseech thee to acknowledge this thy servant, a sheep of thine own fold, a lamb of thine own flock, a sinner of thine own redeeming."

All of us go down to the dust, and yet even at the grave we make our song: alleluia! alleluia! alleluia!

Our faith calls upon us to be joyful at the news that our loved one has come near to the presence of God, where there is no more weeping and all tears are wiped away.  And, just as importantly, it also calls upon us to mourn, to feel our grief and loss; even Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus.  The loss is real, and we don't try to sweep that under any rugs.  We miss those we see no more, miss their presence, their voices, their touch, their laughter and even the things we could hardly stand about them.

The question always remains.  Where is God in all this?  Why this young woman with all her life ahead of her?  People murmur platitudes that may help some people get through it (God needed her; it was God's will, or God's plan) but make me feel awful.  What kind of God is that, who takes our children? I don't believe it.

No, God was in the hearts of those in the overflowing church, there to support the family and to grieve with them; God was in the hands of those who prepared the ample food at the reception and the hands of all who will continue to prepare food for the family in days and weeks to come.  God is in the touch of a friend's, a hug, a hand squeeze.  God is with the friends who keep watch, keep company, who can with an open heart listen and know when it is a time to be silent before an outpouring of grief.  God is in the sweet memories shared.

Death makes many of us so anxious that we cannot be all right in the silence, we cannot be silent before the grief.  We are afraid that the other person's grief will unlock our own and we will all be swept away by our feelings.  Sometimes people talk talk talk, say thoughtless things unconsciously designed to deflect anything that might unlock their hearts to overwhelming emotion.  Who wants to be a sobbing mess?

And yet God is with us.  Even in the torrent of emotion.  Especially in the torrent of emotion, especially when we are a sobbing mess.  God's care for us, God's own grief at the loss and yet God's steadfastness, is something we can count on.  Read the Psalms: be my rock, be my hiding place, set me on the high place and send your holy angels to tend us in our suffering.  God is there for us, often appearing as a casserole brought in on plaid oven mitts, in the touch of a friend's hand on the shoulder, in the eyes and ears of someone who is not afraid to just be there, to be able to look at our grief and just be there.  To accompany us as far as we need to go, even to the grave itself.

And so this is why even though our hearts are breaking, we sing alleluia.  Fear not, God is with us, always.


MaryB said…
So, so sad. She grew up with Kate at All Saints' and taught her confirmation class (back when 12 yr olds were confirmed). So glad that Kate got to attend her very hopeful funeral. Rest in joy, dear girl.
Yes, indeed. It was a sacred coming together time.
Ray Barnes said…
A beautifull post Penny.
So very sad and yet with hope clearly visible at the end of the tunnel.
May she rest in peace and rise in glory.
I know you are no stranger to this, Ray. I'm glad you saw some hope here.
Dom said…
Very beautiful. Thank you for posting this.
Thanks for stopping by, Dom.
Charles said…
Beautifully expressed Thanks again Penny
Thanks for taking time to leave a comment, Charles.
June Butler said…
Penny, the post is a wonderful reflection on hope in the face of the death of a young woman, which, at the same time, does not deny the grief and sadness associated with her passing.