The Rev. Frank Logue
There are no words for this day. No magic combination of syllables can take away the deep pain from the sudden loss of Meredith and her life so full of promise. Words fail.
When a tragedy like this strikes, well meaning friends and acquaintances use words that cause more pain, more confusion, more misunderstanding. They opt for words aimed at making the loss of Meredith all okay, as if that were possible. But words like “God needed another angel” or “God has a plan” ring hollow. Questions about what exactly happened and how are aimed at gaining understanding and yet they can wound.
And the words of others can never answer for the words “If only.” If only I had done this. If only I hadn’t done that. If only. If only. Playing life back over and over and wondering what could have been done to prevent this tragedy. But these are questions without answers. For no matter how we play and replay the scenes again and again, we still come back to the reality of her death.
You may wonder then why I am speaking at all. Fair enough. I want to acknowledge briefly that in the loss of Meredith, those of us who mourn are on a journey. While words can not fully get to the point of understanding for which we long, words can point the direction we are going. Words can point us away from what ifs and blame toward hope and healing.
You might think from the calm words of sympathy found on the lips of the well meaning that the Bible would be filled only with similar words meant to quickly cover over pain and loss. But in the Bible we find a much more realistic book. King David, the great figure of the Old Testament who gave us the beautiful words of the 23rd Psalm which have comforted so many in times of loss, knew the death of both an infant son and a grown son. When his son died, David cried out, “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son.”
And in the 22nd Psalm we hear the cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me and are so far from my cry and from my words of distress?”
Far from the calm, soothing words we often hear, the Bible cries out at times from a place of anger, pain, and loss. It’s not only okay, but a good idea to call out and ask, “God, how could you let this happen? Where were you when Meredith died? Why Meredith?” or even “How could I let this happen? Why didn’t I do this or that? Why? Why?” and on and on we can stack words to rail against a death that only feels wrong.
Meredith’s life was full of promise and potential and her life among us ended far too soon. It all seems so arbitrary. So pointless. So painful.
The loss is too difficult to bear and can never be born if we don’t vent some of the hurt. But the place to put the loss is not to fire the pain back into yourself. Blame can only poison, it can never heal. You can poison your life with pain and not add a single moment to Meredith’s life with us. The place to put this anger and frustration is on God. God can take the heat of your anger, the pain of your loss. God can take the questions and God will remain with you as you live into a future not without grief, but with a sorrow you can bear.
So often, people say, “I know just how you feel.” And yet even for someone who has suffered the loss of an infant, how can they possibly know just how this feels to lose this precious girl—a specific child with a unique relationship with her family. There are specific issues with every death. All of us is different, each death is distinct, the loss of any person matchless.
So for now, we can rail against God. For now we can lay the blame aside and cry out in pain and loss. But then what? When we grow hoarse from yelling, faint from questioning, what then?
Then there is one who does know and does understand. God knows the pain and tragedy of this loss. Those words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” which the Psalmist cried out centuries before were repeated by Jesus. In his humanity, Jesus felt loss and abandonment on the cross. And not only was Jesus there that afternoon of the crucifixion, but our Lord was present with Meredith at the time of her death and is present to her now.
Our Psalm for this evening, the 139th, says, “Where can I go then from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.” God is ever present. And while death separates us from those we love, death can never completely sever that love. This is why the hurt at the loss of Meredith is so deep is because the love continues so fully, so strongly and through that love we know that the object of the love is still present.
This is something we know beyond words. Words fail to explain how we can know, really know, that though her death was unbelievably tragic, Meredith has passed through death to the life immortal. Meredith’s fragile life ended many, many years before we ever thought she would be taken, and yet Meredith is eternal.
Paul wrote in our reading from Romans that nothing can separate us from the love of God, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
In the same way that your love from Meredith has not stopped, nothing, not even the sudden, tragic loss of a child so dear can separate you from the love of God. God’s love continues.
I know that even as I say them, these words of mine are failing to convey the thing that is most real, most true, the one thing we can hold on to in a sea tossed by grief and doubt and confusion. The one true thing is that Meredith has passed from life through death to the life immortal. And while my words alone can never bring you comfort, my words alone can never bring understanding or peace, God can speak this truth to your heart day by day. Day by day you can know that Meredith remains Christ’s own forever. Day by day you can feel in your heart that though she is unbearable absent from your lives, she is not fully, truly gone.
Matthew’s Gospel tells us in our reading for today how much Jesus values children. He taught that we must become like them in our innocence and trust if we are ever to find out way to the kingdom of heaven. And Jesus went on to say like a shepherd caring for a lost sheep, the Father in heaven wishes that not one of his little ones should be lost. Meredith has been lost to us, but she is still found in God’s love and God’s presence.
I know this is not enough. I know these words still sound hollow. But do not listen to my words. Listen to your loving God speak in the place beyond words. The Holy Spirit is even now present with you speaking to your heart. This is the same spirit present so fully in Meredith, the same Holy Spirit who is with and in her now. Listen to this spirit of God speaking to your heart and telling you the truth that Meredith lives and that when you too are raised at the last day, you shall be with her again. Listen to words not of blame, but of love, a love that never dies.
The words I have said will fail, but the spirit that now bears witness to your spirit will carry you this day and in the many days of healing to come. Listen to what the Holy Spirit is speaking to your heart, for it is the spirit’s voice that will bring the healing for which you long.