Beyond its accustomed use to designate a federation of states, a commonwealth is also defined as any group of persons united by some common interest. In the face of senseless violence, tragic death, and random injury, as occurred in recent weeks and days especially in London and Manchester, those of us who are helpless bystanders are most certainly part of a commonwealth. As we join hands and hearts across continents and the continuum of life we grieve in unison each individual soul—fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, wives, husbands, and all other relationships of spirit and bond that connect us one to another as beloved human beings divinely created by God—with reverence for life and spiritual respect for the mystery of death.
The most fundamental truth of grief is this: we grieve because we love. Love and grief are inextricably linked. If we did not love, our hearts would not be broken by death. The greater our love, the deeper and more profound our grief.
Grief is in fact the most equal-opportunity experience in all of life. It is the great leveler of emotions, place, and time. For at some age, at some time, everyone will know the sorrow and pain of grief. Grief is indifferent to our race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. We are not emotionally insulated from grief because of where we live, how educated we are, or how much money we have or do not have. Grief doesn’t care whether we are dressed in a business suit, a blue uniform, a hoodie, a tee shirt, or a clergy robe.
The love of grief is passionate—we cherish and memorialize those lost to us in death. We remember, and never forget. The love of grief is compassionate—it reaches out, reconciles, restores, and builds up. And sometimes, amid the very worst of our grief, we catch a glimpse of the enormity of God’s love for us all. New Testament scholar J.B. Phillips offers this translation of the unalterable truth of 1 Corinthians 13:7-8, “Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen” (JBP). Love is why we endure the suffering of loss and persevere in hope. Despite every evidence to the contrary, love never fails.
When death and life-altering injury overwhelm our individual and collective hearts, we are left reeling, especially as we struggle with the “Why?” We want to make sense of it all, yet there are no real answers. Rather, we encounter the reality of grief, the intuitive response of our mind, our body, and our spirit to the death of one we love. And often we find within the love of our grief the best response to life’s worst tragedies. Without fully understanding the “Why?”, we seek some redemptive value, so that death will not have been in vain. We harness our grief-born love first to change our own heart, then slowly the world. And if not the whole world all at once, we start where we are to influence for good, trusting that our small ripple of love shared with others will one day become an exponential sea change.
If we scrutinize the faces of survivors, friends, colleagues, and loved ones photographed at their moment of most intense grief, we see clearly the inestimable shock and sorrow of personal, individual grief. When we read beyond the headlines, we are reminded that each life has its own unique story and that the lives of hundreds, perhaps even thousands of people—neighbors, school friends, church communities, and on and on—are unalterably affected by the untimely death of one they know and love.
After the final words of comfort and encouragement are spoken, the flowers wilt, and the last casserole is delivered, what we discover is that grief never leaves us where it finds us. We are forever changed. Grief may leave us disillusioned with life, more fearful, and hate-filled. Or grief may leave us more convinced of the goodness of life, better able to love more deeply, despite the certainty that evil is present in the world, often expressed as hatred, racism, prejudice, and bigotry, sometimes through irreversible violence.
When life is suddenly upended by circumstances beyond our comprehension, we are forced to stretch—we must think and feel beyond ourselves. We realize in that moment that we can do nothing more and nothing less than pray.
We pray that God will comfort those who grieve. We pray that God will give strength and courage to those whose hearts are broken. We pray that God will heal those whose bodies are wounded and restore each person to hope. We pray that God will overcome the power of evil in this besieged world in which we live. We pray that God will use the very love expressed by our grief to work for good in the world, “And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace…will himself restore, support, strengthen and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10 NRSV).