Wednesday, February 22, 2012
A Very Present Help in Trouble
(a funeral homily on Ash Wednesday)
I only met Sarah one time: over the course of two days, here in this same, holy space. The occasion was her grandfather's funeral not quite ﬁve months ago. In that brief time, I experienced Sarah as a young woman of conviction, compassion, and uncommon grace. Her life was a life lived on purpose.
The loss of such a life - the loss of Sarah - is a great trouble. A great and unexpected sadness. I remember Vicki's remark to me on Monday, that a mother is not supposed to be prepared to attend her daughter's funeral. It's not supposed to be like this. And Brian, who lost his bride two days before the resolution of custody issues which was to allow Sarah and Brian and Anya to live as one family under one roof. Devastating and unexpected loss. Profoundly felt loss. Trouble.
So the Scriptures speak to us, remind us: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. In the gospel, Jesus tells his friends, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me." And he gives them these words not as a happy platitude on a sunny day, but as he prepares them for great loss and trouble: his departure from them, Jesus's own agonizing death. "Do not let your hearts be
troubled." "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble."
On what grounds does Scripture say these things, even in the face of death?
The Church teaches that because Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, we too shall be raised. This is our hope in times of trouble: that nothing, not life,death, heights, powers, nor anything else can separate us from the love we know in Christ Jesus. Even in death, God is our very present help.
That's what the reading from Revelation is about. It's a picture of the heavenly realm. Every nation gathered, all things made well, but if you look carefully, the picture of the heavenly realm is not without its trouble. A chaplain who worked in a psychiatric ward and knew therefore something about trouble asked me once: "Have you ever noticed that it doesn't say that there aren't any tears - no more trouble - only that God himself is present to each tear, to each face on which they're born, with the promise to wipe every tear away?" She said to me: That feels honest.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. This is at the heart of what Christians believe it means that the Word became ﬂesh and dwelt among us.
May you remember this strength through your tears - the good and holy tears of love and loss and grief. May you know the presence of our God who is present in trouble. Sarah herself receives this promise in its fullness today: not that there are no more tears for her - only that the present trouble, her loss - has been met by the tenderness, the parent-like lovingkindness of God. The God who even now wipes Sarah's face, too.