The prophet, Jeremiah laments, “For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me” (Jeremiah 8:21 NRS). Not just people, but animals are capable of mourning death and loss. It is as if all of creation understands what it means to lose something which cannot be regained, and that loss is so profound and deeply felt that it is expressed externally.
In this image, one bird mourns the loss of another, possibly its mate, by standing vigil over the body and crying aloud. We see similar behavior in all variety of animals, from lions to the great apes, to orcas to birds. Perhaps loss is more universal than we often appreciate. One of the greatest symbols of loss in the Bible is Rachel, a matriarch of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, who is portrayed in prophetic writings as mourning the loss of her children, the death of the people of Israel. We see this readily in the Book of Jeremiah, which states, “Thus says the LORD: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more” (Jeremiah 31:15 NRS). God knows and understands mourning, for the Father mourned the death of the Son, and the Son mourned the loss of others during the course of his earthly ministry, including Lazarus and John the Baptist. This may not feel like a well from which we can draw strength in our time of need, during our occasions of mourning, but it is. God has great empathy for those who mourn, and mourns alongside of us. God seeks to give us everlasting life, not revel in death and suffering it leaves in its wake.
To be understood is a great gift, a treasure in a world where we can feel lost, disconnected, and wholly misunderstood. Yet even in those moments of overwhelming pain from loss, the Lord reaches out to us to swaddles us in the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit. The people of God draw close to one another, to uphold and to mourn collectively, for the pain of one is amplified in Christ-like community. We are not alone, even when a loved one dies and there is a vacancy in our lives and in our beings. God is present in the movement of the Holy Spirit, and in those who bear the name of Christ to the world. Whether we are the primary mourner or one of those united in Christ who are vessels of comfort and witness, we are children of the God who knows mourning, honors it, and seeks to fulfill the promise of the day when all mourning shall cease, because death and sorrow will be no more. Our mournings of this world are temporary. They may last until our final breath, but there will come the day when our lost loved ones shall be resurrected, restored to us. May we live each day until that triumphant epiphany living lives that reveal God’s truth and grace, and embody God’s love, so that we may inherit the Kingdom Christ prepares for all those who love him. In the promise is hope. In the promise is our eternal comfort.