Psalm 43: All Saints Sunday
You are the God in whom I take refuge – why have you cast me off?
Why must I walk about mournfully? Oppressed?
The Psalmist demands an answer from God. He or she cries out – God – my God – why have you forsaken me? Why is this happening?
The Psalmist tries a plea, show me any light, any hope, God, and I will follow it to you.
The Psalmist tries to bribe God. I will come to your altar, God, your church, and praise you with exceeding joy…. if you give me any hope.
And the Psalmist chastises themselves, “Why are you cast down, o my soul, why are you disquieted?” Why are you sad? Soul, you should take hope. For I shall praise the one who is my help, my God, again some day.
And the psalm ends.
Does hope come? Does the psalmist ever get out of their sorrow? Does God ever send enough light that the singer can see where to find God?
We don’t know the ending.
Psalms are songs gifting us prayers and words to express how we’re feeling right now.
And right now, we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
Who sits here feeling forsaken, abandoned, cut off from God’s light? You don’t sit alone. 3000 some years ago, this writer felt the same.
Who sits here trying to cling to hope for a brighter tomorrow, who tells themselves good phrases like ‘Take heart,’ ‘This too shall pass’? This psalmist did, too.
Who sits here longing for the mountain of God where every tear is wiped away and death is no more? This ancient person, did, too.
Jesus told the people around him: listen to these teachings in scripture. Listen to the hope offered and the promises.
But Jesus said don’t tie up the problem with a pretty bow and hand it back as a burden. Don’t go using scripture to harm people. Preach the good news, preach the hope, but do no religious violence.
This often means sitting with the psalmist in that uncomfortable zone of not knowing why there is sorrow. Not knowing what tomorrow will bring. Not knowing if there is a happy ending.
It often means realizing our best intentions to say something nice, or scriptural, are actually harmful… for what the psalmists and the person mourning needs is presence and abiding love… they need an invitation and permission to bounce between hope and hopelessness just like the psalmists… and don’t need a judge telling them how to feel and think.
Do you know someone who is hurting?
Words like, “God must have needed another angel” sound nice… but are actually a burden implying God in God’s selfishness killed your loved one. Try instead, “One of my favorite memories of our loved one is…” or “Tell me one of your favorite memories of them.” Either of these open the dialogue up to be a conversation instead of a burden.
Instead of, “Be strong,” which implies it is wrong to feel sad, and is a weakness, say “We all need help in times like this. I am here for you.”
Try not to say, “Don’t cry, they’re in a better place,” which implies not only that it is wrong to cry, but also that being with the mourners was hellish. Say instead, “I wish I had the right words. Just know I care.”
Words like, “It’ll get better,” may be true… but are a burden, because that is not where a person mourning is sitting at right now. Silence, companionship, a hug, a dropped off meal, a check up calling or writing months or years later saying, ‘I know you’re still hurting, and you’re still in my prayers and thoughts’ does much more good than reassuring the person now that tomorrow is brighter.
Because when we’re mourning, tomorrow may not be brighter.
It may take years. Or decades. Or it may not be better until we’re in heaven and God wipes those tears away.
The one who know is hurting?
Just cry. Just sit. Let the mourner lead you.
The greatest among us is a servant.
The blessed among us are those who weep.
The psalmists leads us in his or her mourning from despair into hope and back and forth again. And God goes with them the whole way. We ought to too.
Today we remember all of us who are in mourning. We remember all who have died and leave behind beautiful, complex, lives and stories and memories for us to carry on.
And we remember all who have died and leave behind words unsaid, mysteries, and pains never addressed. We remember we are a community.
A community of saints, living and dead, born and not yet born, and never born, who all make up the body of Christ.
And we practice what we teach – to truly rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. To hold both the promise of new life with the pain of mortality. To embrace each other as who we are, where we are, and to love one another with the deep, abiding love God gives us.