2/23/2009

Grieving for Saints

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.
- Psalm 116:15


The past month or two has given me a great deal to think about. About a month ago, Oma Vyuk passed away. Then last week, a young lady named Katelyn Muir departed, after battling cancer for many years. Despite the great difference in their ages, both of these women were a testimony to the power of God in the lives of believers and I had enormous respect for them. Both left this world glorifying God, and even their funerals bore witness to God's never-ending love and grace.
As I said to my husband, as a Christian that is how you want to go. I long for my own funeral to be just as God-centered, that the words "Repent and believe for the Kingdom of God is at hand. (Mark 1:15)" may be heard by all, just as they have been in recent months. Like many others, "I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death." (Phil. 1:20) I long to stand before God and hear those words "Well done, good and faithful servant."(Matt. 25:21)
Still, what about those who are left behind?
Unlike the scene in Pilgrim's Progress, most Christians do not get to journey across the Jordan side by side with their good friend Hopeful. In fact, that experience is exceedingly rare. Instead, Hopeful must stand at the edge of the water, crying out to his friend "Be of good cheer.. the bottom is good... these troubles and distresses that you go through in these waters are no sign that God hath forsaken you but are sent to try you whether you will call to mind that which heretofore you have received of His goodness and live upon Him in your distresses." Furthermore, Hopeful is often the one left behind to comfort those who must also watch Christian depart, and this is not always an easy task. However, we are reminded of the words of Paul who says "...We do not want you to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. (1 Thess. 4:13)"
Notice he does not say we don't grieve at all. We do grieve. We just do it differently.
St. Augustine wrote the following words when he was reflecting on the death of his mother Monica, a woman he considered to be most Godly. I read this passage long before either funeral, and was immediately moved both by the beautiful language employed and by Augustine's frank description of his own sorrow and how he turned to the Lord in his grief. This passage is perhaps one of the most beautiful examples of a Christian grieving in hope that I have ever had the pleasure of reading.
I closed her eyes and an overwhelming grief welled into my heart and was about to flow forth in a flood of tears. But at the same time under a powerful act of mental control my eyes held back the flood and it dried up. The inward struggle put me into great agony. Then when she breathed her last [my son] cried out in sorrow... We did not think it right to celebrate the funeral with tearful dirges and lamentations... My mother's dying meant neither that her state was miserable, nor that she was suffering extinction. We were confident of this because of the evidence of her virtuous life, her faith unfeigned, and reasons of which we felt certain.
Why then did I suffer sharp pangs of inward grief? It must have been the fresh wound cause by the break in habit formed by our living together, a very affectionate and precious bond suddenly torn apart. I was glad indeed to have her testimony when in that last sickness she responded to my attentions... And yet, my God our Maker, what comparison can there be between the respect with which I deferred to her and the service she rendered me? Now that I had lost the immense support she gave, my soul was wounded, and my life as it were torn to pieces, since my life and hers had become a single thing.
After [my son's] tears had been checked [a friend] took up the Psalter and began to chant a Psalm. The entire household responded to him "I will sing of your mercy and judgment, Lord..."
I was glad to weep before You about her and for her, about myself and for myself. Now I let flow the tears which I had held back so they ran as freely as they wished. My heart rested upon them, and it reclined upon them because it was Your ears that were there..."

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