The Passion of Grief
During this week when much of the world observes the sacred days of Passover, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter, the underlying theology of each holy day centers on the power of death, the intensity of grief, and the joy of redemption.
At this moment in history the world watches and waits as the nation of Ukraine is besieged and resists. We listen to media reporters as they depict the horrors inflicted on people and places, even as we see images beyond human comprehension. From the sidelines of safety some 6,000 miles away, we are removed from the daily reality of war, a relentless war of unprovoked aggression, devastation, and ruinous destruction. Yet it is impossible to be unaffected by images of a ravaged country and innocent citizens of every age subjected to unimaginable atrocities. For those who know the pain and suffering of death and grief, it is a high calling to be fully present to the human misery of others, wherever they are in the world. In his book Cries from the Cross, my late husband Dr. Leighton Farrell wrote, “Where God is, the forces of evil will never have the final word.” As children of God, it is our sacred responsibility to join hands and hearts with Ukrainians, those we love but do not know who at this very moment are oppressed by an unwanted war of brutality and terror.
If we scrutinize the images of survivors and loved ones, we see in their faces the unspeakable pain and sorrow of intense, personal grief. As I read the newspaper on April 4, I was struck by a photo of Halyna Melnik, age 61, who stepped into the daylight on Saturday, April 2 after spending almost two weeks in the darkness of her neighbor’s basement. When she emerged, she saw her once-idyllic suburban street transformed into a battlefront with homes reduced to rubble by Russian forces positioned nearby. Her 83-year-old father was sitting by his kitchen window eating a meal on March 6 when he was killed by a Russian mortar strike. Five days later, her son Serhii, a husband and father of two children, was killed as he tried to evacuate civilians to safety. In the photo, her expression is one of overwhelming grief—a broken heart awash in complete despair, utter disbelief, and searing pain.
The psalmist David prays for deliverance from his enemies in Psalm 31:9-16,
Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress;
my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also.
For my lie is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away.
I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
For I hear the whispering of many—terror all around!—
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life.
But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.”
my times are in your hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your steadfast love.
Our personal experience of grief empowers us to reach across time and geography to support those who are engaged in the fierce struggle to defend their lives, their democracy, and the freedom of their nation. We have a sacred duty to those who are at the epicenter of hardship and adversity to offer spiritual solidarity and encouragement as they persevere in the strength of their unshakeable faith. We pray in the words of the psalmist,
Blessed be the LORD, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me
When I was beset as a city under siege.
I had said in my alarm, “I am driven far from your sight.”
But you heard my supplications when I cried out to you for help.
Above all else, we befriend those who are anguished by the pain of loss and uncertainty with the love and compassion of our heart. We pray for them and with them. We pray for God's strength and unmistakable presence to them. We pray that God will comfort them at this time of fear and anxiety in their lives, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
At this high holy season, in the confidence of our faith we believe that God is at work in the world to restore and redeem humankind. In the certainty of our faith we believe that good will triumph over evil through the power and sufficiency of God’s grace.
Let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them.
You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.
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