and all the men who were with him did the same.
They mourned and wept, and fasted until evening....
– 2 Samuel 1: 11 – 12
Out of the depths I cry to You, O LORD.
- Psalm 130:1
There is a lot of grieving going on in our world.
There is a lot of grieving going on in this week’s Scripture lessons. On a sunshiny day when your own cares are light, the grief of other people (and words of grief in the Bible) feel like “downers” to be avoided. In view of the events of this past year and a half, it is likely that you yourself have experienced grief and mourning recently.
I don’t pretend to be anybody’s expert on grief and mourning, but I can point out to you some of the many different things that bring them into our lives.
† Of course, everybody expects grief at the death of someone we love.
† We should recognize that grief arises when we lose anything that is personally important to us, such as a job, an heirloom, a friendship, or when
we lose a particular role in life (such as being a boss or being trusted).
† Unpleasant changes in our lives, including health problems and some effects of aging, can produce grief in us.
† The fear and worry over the prospect of such losses can itself give us grief.
† Sympathy (compassion) and empathy for another person’s troubles can induce grief in us, too.
When we mingle with people of different cultures, we see different ways that each cultural group learned to express grief— or to refuse to express grief. Some groups have traditions of wailing loudly, while other groups teach grieving people to be stubborn in stony silence. In addition to the story of David’s grief over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan and the army of Israel, we can look at the gospel story about grief over the young girl who was dying, and who eventually died— before Jesus arrived on the scene (Mark 5:22-23, 38-39; see also the versions of this story in Matthew 9 and Luke 8). These reveal traditions of mourning that seem weird when we compare them to our own traditions surrounding grief.
In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross published a book called, On Death and Dying. It triggered a worldwide conversation on many aspects of what happens when people die, and the grieving “process” which is a big part of it. Sadly, a lot of people who did not actually read her writings came to think that she gave a definitive list of certain stages that a person is supposed to experience in the “process.” What Kübler-Ross actually did was to observe the experience of many, many mourners and collect data on what they reported. In reality, everybody grieves in their own ways, depending on many personal and social factors.
The other week, we read in 1 Samuel 16:13 how the old prophet Samuel anointed young David to be the next King of Israel and “the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward.” However, as we read on through the stories of David’s adventures and suffering, we see numerous examples of how David was merely human like the rest of us: he made many errors and committed many sins. The presence of the spirit of the LORD did not stop David from being a flawed person, as are we all. In this week’s reading from 1 Samuel 1, we see grieving David lashing out in anger to kill the messenger who came, with the best of intentions, to inform David that Saul and the others had died. [Carefully comparing 1 Samuel 31 with 2 Samuel 1 reveals that David was probably reacting to incomplete and conflicting information about the deaths, too] I also think it is worth noting that David’s statements in 2 Samuel 1 show him to be much more upset about the death of his very dear friend, King Saul’s son Jonathan, than he was about any of the other deaths that occurred in that same disastrous battle (1 Samuel 31). In other words, his grief was supremely personal, as it would be for most of us ordinary folks.
Paul wrote this about the church as the Body of Christ:
If one member suffers, all suffer together with it;
if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
– 1 Corinthians 12:26
And Jesus said,
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
– Matthew 5:4.