Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.
St John’s Gospel, 19.25-30
Combined with the outer emphasis on peace and service is an inner emphasis on care for one another in the church. Through small groups and in other less formal ways, members of the church show their care for each other. More than one person related the story of a child with Down’s syndrome born to a couple in the congregation. The child, Decker, had heart trouble with complications. There were meals, phone calls, a real sense that this was everyone’s child. Sadly, Decker died in surgery at the age of four months.
While Decker was near death and in the hospital, Rae Ann, an M.D., pulled together a group to do singing and praying and sharing of stories about Decker. The idea took shape when on a Saturday night, the word came that he was in crisis. Rae Ann had gone to visit Decker and his family and drove home from the hospital singing a song. It was a song of prayer, asking God to give her guidance how to respond to this family. Somehow the answer came to her that the church should sing for Decker. Sunday morning Rae Ann stood up and invited people to her house that night to make the tape. Probably half the congregation was there. Marilyn and Gretchen, two women of the church, drove down to Denver General Hospital at 10 or 11 that night. They played the tape to everyone including those who had made the tape.
When Susan and Steve, the pastors, did the funeral, it was as if it had been their child who had died. Then the father stood up and read the Scripture: nothing can separate us from the love of God. One member asked him later, How could you have such faith? He said, it was the church had showed him that Christ was alive and real during that time. (2-3)
Lois Y. Barrett and Jeff Van Kooten, “Congregational Sketches” from Treasure in Clay Jars (2004)
In this last week, our community of friends has experienced the death of a young child and the pain and suffering of his parents. Their family, friends, and church community has surrounded them with love, food, prayers, and presence. In fact, the sign-up calendar for meals, groceries, yard-work and house-cleaning is fill up through March.
It is the role of the Church to surround the family experiencing death, to shield them from the feeling of helplessness, to mourn their loss and share in their lament, to pray for them and with them for God’s mercy, and to stand in presence as the person of Christ, just as Jesus asked his disciple to do for his mother at the moment of his own death.
The Church is its most vulnerable in a time of death, and certainly the death of a small child; We ask of ourselves of God and His control, or whether or not He has any control over these situations, and, if He did, why would He allow this to happen. But the Church is also at its greatest and only strength, living out its calling to receive and shelter the helpless, like the widow and the orphan in distress, as St James compels (James 1.27). This is our calling in the face of death.
As it has been said, ‘if you would avoid tragedy (and suffering), avoid love.’ The courage that Christ gives us is to live lives free from the fear of death, so that when death comes, we do not shy away from it and from its painful consequences, but instead sing, pray, and stand vigilant in its presence. Because where we are in the face of death is where Christ is also.