Tragedies strike when we least expect. They sneak up from behind and flank us before we have a chance to respond. They are real, hurtful, and devastating. They cloud the sun and wilt the flower. They are the anti-joy and hope-stifling things nightmares are made of…
Tragedies, as defined by the Miriam-Webster dictionary, are disastrous events that cause great sadness.
Our service had been planned in advance, I had just returned from a week-long vacation, The Pastor had planned to take the weekend off, and our guest speaker had his message prepared. Sunday was shaping up to be a true celebration of Christ and His Love and Faithfulness. Then Friday happened. That evening I was alerted to an urgent prayer request. I read the email with unbelief and sat staring at my iPhone screen stunned. A three-year-old child from our congregation had passed away.
In two days the service was scheduled to be a Celebration of Family Service centered around God’s love and His Faithfulness, and was to be followed by an all-church brunch. The leadership team discussed ways to assist the family and congregation with their grief. Would we keep the service the same? Would we alter aspects of what was planned? Are their counselors who can offer support? On and on the questions continued to burst forth from our minds as we tried to grasp the reality of the situation.
It was decided to leave the service as planned with minor changes to be sensitive to the mourning that would take place. It was in that service, and the week to follow, where I learned 3 very important things about the Church.
1. God’s Love and Faithfulness are constant in all circumstances.
Life will throw us curve balls and, occasionally, will knock us flat on our backs. The situation was devastating and the family was hurting. What the church did in response was to gather together and concentrate on who God is, what God did for us through Christ, and what God promises to do. God is faithful to His people, and His love allows us to endure.
2. The Church is a family that both grieves and celebrates together.
The sense of love and togetherness was the strongest I have ever experienced. This was The Church, this is what God wanted: A people who would gather together in the love and the sorrow. A people who would come together as a family and mourn with and for one another. A people who would love. The people surrounded this family with prayers, meals, time spent together, love and unending support. There were no debates, there were no theological discussions…it was simply love doing. It was the Church.
3. Musical worship can express even the hardest of emotions.
Words are often not enough to express the loss, sorrow, and pain that comes with the passing of a loved one. Music transcends the silence and allows us to express truly deep emotions. Singing songs to God in a congregational setting, however, has an even greater significance. Every voice is raised as one. Every person with tears, tissues, uplifted hands, clenched fists, and folded arms. Every child and visitor. All are unified before the Lord, and all are sharing in the grief as the band plays. The focus is on God and bringing Him all the pain.
Tragedies will sneak up on us, but The Church can hold fast to the love of God and remember His faithfulness when the clouds begin to roll in.