Today I heard the skriek of a mother who had lost his son at the age of 26, a cry that shatters the language. Her boy went to sleep flushed with cold medicine. He never woke up. A mother should never bury her child. The earth cannot withstand her clawing pain.
Beside the wailing of the family, I felt utterly useless. Outside of the pulpit, what use is a pastor to such tragedy?
It is at such moments the pastor must remember that he is there as a pastor, not simply as another human being. “Just be yourself” and “just be there” is the postmodern mandate, a generation weary and even cynical of words.
Presence is important, and the humanity of the pastor is necessary if the pastor is to offer anything. But the pastor fails miserably if he is there only as another human fellow. The pastor must speak what no human being can speak from the compound of experience. Death is the limit of life and it is the limit of our language. But God’s Word is not chained by life or death. And it is the only Word that can offer any comfort.
My heart trembled as I turned to 1 Corinthians 15, worried that the promise of resurrection in this tragic lost might sound out of place, even mean. God’s Word did not fit the reality of loss. But that was what was needed. To embrace the reality of loss with the larger reality of resurrection. When we got to the proclamation “Death where is thy victory?” death became a declawed and tootheless tiger whose roar was still terrifying but threatened nothing.
The pastor must speak God’s Word. That is his first responsibility. His humanity affords him the ears and the hearts. But he does not speak out of his humanity. He is a mouthpiece of God’s speech. Worst thing he can do is to be a “religious” counselor, and being either absolute silent or stringing together the latest recommended phrases of condolences. Reading scripture, letting the eternal Word of God ring through his body, is what makes him crucial to the grieving family.