Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Comfort In Times Of Loss

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted"

Comforted by whom? The ancient prophet Jeremiah spoke of God himself comforting those who suffered devastating loss, but Jesus' second beatitude just says they will be comforted. Is that because God works through people? People like you and I? But how?

How can a ten-year-old girl deal with the death of her father; or a middle-aged couple come to terms with the suicide of their son; or an elderly man who has already buried both his children find peace when his wife follows? You don’t have to travel far in Caversham and Reading - or doubtless wherever you live - before you come across stories like these. What can we say? What can any church – as a community of those seeking to follow Jesus – have to offer in the face of such loss? And where does Jesus come into the story?

Maybe you can turn to the Bible – Jesus often did that.

There are three approaches (at least) in the Bible to comfort in the face of devastating loss. There is the 'God will make it up to you' approach, for example Joel 2:25a: “I will repay you for the years the swarming locust has eaten,” and Job 42:10: “The Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.”

Then there is the 'God will bring them back,' approach of resurrection, for example John 11:23b: “Your brother will rise again” and 1 Thess. 4:14: “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.”

And finally there is the 'God is with us in the midst of suffering' approach, for example Isaiah 13a: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you,” and 43:2a: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you,” along with Matthew 28:20b: “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” as well as the evocative “Jesus wept,” in the middle of the story of his friend Lazarus, who had died:.
"When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Jesus wept."
You might want to consider when it is best to talk to people about such things. Is it useful to say them to someone who is already devastated? Or are they most useful to know in advance, before the devastation comes, so someone can cling to them in the storm?

And maybe, when the storm does come, the best comfort we can provide to someone is to stand with them in the heart of the storm and weep, then to provide practical support and help as long as it is needed – often longer than you might expect. Maybe share some Psalms of lament. And tell them stories of Jesus, who stood with his friend’s sisters and wept.

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