“Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
I got some hard news the night before last. In the midst of a pandemic like we are facing right now, hard news like this comes with a particularly bitter aftertaste. Someone I counted a friend died suddenly leaving behind a grieving wife, two young boys who won’t understand, and a family who are all hurting. Yesterday morning as I woke up thinking about it, praying for those involved, something Paul commanded came to mind that I think is all the more necessary for Jesus followers to be putting into practice these days.
Losing a loved one is always hard. Sometimes it’s unbearably hard. My friend, Alex, had struggled with kidney issues his whole life. He wasn’t supposed to live much past childhood. He had multiple kidney transplants. Lived off and on with dialysis. Spent time with one functioning kidney. If you saw him on the street, you’d never know anything was wrong at all. He was smart, talented, and a shot of joy wherever he went. He was passionate about his family and his guitar. He went to the hospital the other night with a high fever and then he was gone.
My son’s teacher lost her dad with a similar suddenness recently too. He had been fighting cancer hard, took a sudden turn for the worse, and then was gone. There are folks in my congregation who have had to go to the hospital recently. They’ll be okay I pray, but a trip to the hospital normally isn’t such a scary thing. They are places of help and healing with wonderfully hard-working folks who are committed to the care of their patients.
That last part hasn’t changed a bit, and in fact if anything recent days have highlighted just how true it is. The debt of gratitude we owe to our health care workers and the admiration we should have for their courage and dedication goes beyond words. But a trip to the hospital nowadays has gone from unfortunate to terrifying.
Why? Two reasons. The first is the highly contagious nature of the coronavirus. Being in a facility housing patients who are infected necessarily brings with it the chance of contracting it. From everything we know about the virus, that fact alone is deeply unsettling to put it mildly. It’s the reason hospitals have closed themselves off to all visitors. As a pastor, I can’t go and minister to folks who are there. This highlights the second reason hospitals have become so terrifying. When you have a loved one go, you can’t follow.
When we are facing an uncertain and unnerving situation, being together can mean the world. The ministry of presence is a powerful one. Knowing we’re not alone–or that someone we love is not suffering alone–means more than the world when we are facing hard or scary times. Right now, though, the very thing we need is the very thing we can’t have.
So what do we do?
We mourn with those who mourn. We let our heart break with and for them. And then we let them know about it. We call. We pray. We direct message. We pray. We write letters. We pray. We send emails. We pray. Do not discount the power of prayer. Our God who is still on His throne and whose character has not changed in all of this moves in response to our prayers. He ministers the power and presence of His Spirit in ways that go beyond even what we have words to express. He will be our comfort if we will have Him.
There’s one more thing, though, and this is going to get just a bit uncomfortable. All of this comfort is only available to those who have placed their trust in Him. The resurrection hope that sustains us is only good for those who believe in the resurrection. If you aren’t sure whether or not your loved one does, fix that. That conversation won’t likely be easy, but if you don’t have it and something happens, you may not get another chance. Don’t risk putting that load of guilt on your back. Have that conversation. Invite him to place his whole trust in the Lord. Encourage her to give her life into the hands of Christ. There’s no time like now.
If you’re one who still has reason for rejoicing, though, remember that there are those who have reason to mourn. Mourn with them. They need that now more than ever.