Easter is a tender time when we’re grieving the death of one we love. We understand too well the darkness of Good Friday because we know the personal pain of loss and grief. Spiritually we believe our faith, but emotionally we may struggle with the triumph of resurrection. How do we celebrate the joy of Easter when our grieving heart keeps us in the sorrow of Good Friday? Yet there is no greater comfort for us in our grief than the victory of Easter - triumph over death, life beyond death, life everlasting.
As my husband Leighton lay dying, he drifted in and out. I saw him gradually abandon any real awareness of life beyond our daily encounter with terminal illness, treatment, hope, and despair. Yet one world event captured his attention, the death of President Ronald Reagan.
On June 11, 2004 we watched the dignified presidential funeral on television. As we sat together in silence, I sensed an awkward emotional space between us, the chasm between life and death. On some level I think we knew that this same ritual would affect us both very soon, but in very different ways. I observed Leighton’s engagement as he listened to the eulogies, entirely present to the service in his spirit. I watched his reactions, and wondered if this solemn occasion felt as personal to him as it did to me.
During the service I was profoundly moved by the anthem, the familiar “Jerusalem” hymn tune by C.H.H. Parry set to words by Horatius Bonar. Only a month later, the same arrangement was used at Leighton’s memorial service. To this day, whenever I hear the music I am always moved to tears, transported to those days and moments when all of life changed forever. The words would become my personal mantra of comfort through grief.
As we grieve, the grace of Easter - the certainty of eternal life - sustains and strengthens us through the steadfast love of God.
O love of God, how strong and true! Eternal and yet ever new,
Uncomprehended and unbought, beyond all knowledge and all thought.
O love of God, how deep and great! Far deeper than man’s deepest hate;
Self-fed, self-kindled, like the light, changeless, eternal, infinite.
O heavenly love, how precious still, in days of weariness and ill!
In nights of pain and helplessness, to heal, to comfort, and to bless.
O wide embracing, wondrous love, we read thee in the sky above,
We read thee in the earth below, in seas that swell and streams that flow.
We read thee best in Him who came, to bear for us the cross of shame;
Sent by the Father from on high, our life to live, our death to die.
We read thy power to bless and save, even in the darkness of the grave;
Still more in resurrection-light, we read the fullness of thy might.
O love of God, our shield and stay, through all the perils of our way;
Eternal love, in thee we rest, ror ever safe, for ever blest.
Horatius Bonar, 1808–1889
"The Love of God”
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
Lamentations 3:22-24 NRSV
Keep me this day, O God, in the strength of your Son.