Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16
Grief is an odd thing; it's something that everyone, at some time or another, will experience. Yet grief is a mysterious series of emotion that impacts every person differently.
As a hospital chaplain, l've witnessed a wide array of behavioral and emotional manifestations of grief. Tears, oddly enough, are (in my experience) not the first reaction for many people. It could be shock and fainting, or anger with yelling and punches and chairs thrown, or numbness that seemingly causes no reaction at all. But immediately bursting into tears? Not often.
What connects many people in their grief–regardless of expression–is a desperate attempt to make meaning of what is happening. Some do it through arrangements and details, immediately making decisions and looking for what comes next. Some do it through connections and relationships with family and friends. And some find it in their faith.
Saturday is about grief. It's about trying to make sense of the unsensible. It’s about finding meaning in a–for Jesus’ community at the time–meaningless and pointless death. Saturday wasn't the day they focused on prophecy and Jesus' promise he would rise again. Saturday was about grief, anger, sorrow, loss, pain, and preparation.
While the words of the prophets may fade against the reality of death, the words of the psalms speak into the confusion and disorientation of grief–whether in the hospital waiting room or in Jerusalem 2000 years ago.
Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16 echos many emotions: reading it aloud with a tone of anger, sadness, disillusionment, resignation, or hope all fit. Each emotion, each voice makes sense and brings different meaning to each stanza and verse.
1 In you, O Lord, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me. 2 Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me. 3 You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me, 4 take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge. 15 My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. 16 Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.
Verses 1-4 proclaim that God is a refuge, a deliverer, a rescuer, a rock, and a fortress. In the storm of emotions that are part of the grieving process, the psalmist looks to God to avoid being swept away. The emotions aren't gone, the bereaved still must face waves and waves of ever changing feelings, but with God they are bearable.
Once, during a time of personal grief, I was asked: "How can you still trust God? Why do you still look towards faith and the church?" It was an unexpected but important question. It took me a while to answer, and when I did I had no eloquent words or unshakeable theological arguments. All I could say was: "I don’t know what else to do or who else to be. I have no other way to survive."
I see this is attitude in the psalmist and the psalm. Verses 15-16 speak to the trust and faith the psalmist has in God. Their times of pain aren't over–enemies and persecutors await. But God is there. God is among the stalked and the persecuted, and in that the psalmist finds comfort.
This knowledge doesn't take the hurt or sadness away. It doesn't make anyone feel better. It isn't a formula to quicken the process of grief. It's a life preserver in the turbulence of grief. A refuge. A rock. A fortress.
Saturday is the between–the time between death and life when the question of "what next?" dominated that grief-stricken community in Jerusalem. The ending is written, but Saturday honors the pain of the uncertain.
While we search for meaning, comfort, and hope, Psalm 31 offers space for uncertainty and welcomes all the manifestations of grief. But it also offers hope and safety in those uncertain times.
This week's Sponsor