A Liturgy of Lament

"Oh, Lord live inside me, 
Lead me on my way

Oh, Lord in the darkness, 
Lead me on my way

Oh, Lord heaven's waiting
; open up your door

 Lead me home."

 - "Lead Me Home," Jamie N. Commons


 Reader: As the soldiers led Jesus away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned for him. Jesus turned and said to them, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.’”  (Mark 15:1-15; Luke 23:13-28)

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining...  Then Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.”  (Matthew 27:45-50; Luke 23:44-47)

Pastor: Jesus entered a world that was broken, suffering, and full of grief. He grieved the loss of his friends; he wept for his people. He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.  He entered into a lonesome, weary world in desperate need of the light of hope and peace, the promise of God's everlasting presence and love.

Congregation:  Just as Jesus wept, we, too, weep for the death of loved ones, the loss of opportunities, the fading of hopes and dreams.

Pastor: God, you have given us reason to celebrate, but we often find the days cold and our hearts hard.  As we await our resurrection, it’s sometimes hard for us to lift up our hearts. You understand the grief of the world; meet us in our aching hearts we pray. Hold as we walk through darkness.

Congregation: Help us. Embrace us. Heal us.

Reader:  “He was despised and forsaken by men, this man of suffering, grief’s patient friend.
As if he was a person to avoid, we looked the other way; he was despised, forsaken, and we took no notice of him. Yet it was our suffering he carried, our pain and distress, our sickness-to-the-soul.

We thought that God had rejected him, but he was hurt because of us; he suffered for us. Our wrongdoing wounded and crushed him. He endured the breaking that made us whole. His injuries became our healing. We all have wandered off, like shepherdless sheep, scattered by our aimless pursuits; The Eternal One laid on him, this silent sufferer, the sins of us all." (Isaiah 53:3-6)

Pastor: Jesus knows the feelings of abandonment, anger, and loneliness we sometimes feel. Jesus knows the depths of our broken hearts, and He alone has the power to bring beauty from the ashes in our lives. We long for the day when His work will be completed in us and in a world that groans as it awaits redemption.  

Congregation: Meanwhile, we weep with those who weep, and we mourn with those who mourn.

 Reader: "O Eternal One! O True God my Savior! I cry out to You all the time, under the sun and the moon. Let my voice reach You! Please listen to my prayers! My soul is deeply troubled, and my heart can’t bear the weight of this sorrow. I feel so close to death…

You crush me with Your anger.
You crash against me like the relentless, angry sea. Those whom I have known, who have been with me,
You have gathered like sheaves and cast to the four winds.
They can’t bear to look me in the eye, and they are horrified when they think of me.
 I am in a trap and cannot be free…

Are You the miracle-worker for the dead?
Will they rise from the dark shadows to worship You again? Will your great love be proclaimed in the grave or Your faithfulness be remembered in whispers like mists throughout the place of ruin? Are Your wonders known in the dominion of darkness,
or is Your righteousness recognized in a land where all is forgotten?

But I am calling out to You, Eternal One.
My prayers rise before You with every new sun! Why do You turn Your head
and brush me aside, O Eternal One?
 Why are You avoiding me… I am desperate. Your rage spills over me like rivers of fire; Your assaults have all but destroyed me…  You have taken from me the one I love and my friend; darkness is my closest friend." - Psalm 88, The Voice


"Say something, I'm giving up on you; I don't know what more that I can do
Anywhere I would've followed you; say something, I'm giving up on you


And I am feeling so small, I am over my head, I know nothing at all
Why have you pushed me aside? Can’t escape from the dark
And helpless to try


Say something, I'm giving up on you
I'm sorry that I couldn't get to you
Anywhere I would've followed you
Say something, I'm giving up on you
And I am shut out in the night, All the ones that I love,
Now I’m saying goodbye
Say something, I'm giving up on you
And I'm sorry that I couldn't get to you
And anywhere I would've followed you (Oh-oh-oh-oh)
Say something, I'm giving up on you


Say something…"

 - “Say Something,” by A Great Big World  (a modified rendition by Tom and Becky Childs meant to reflect Psalm 88)


 Reader: “At different times and in various ways, God’s voice came to our ancestors through the Hebrew prophets. But in these last days, God’s voice has come to us through His Son, the One who has been given dominion over all things and through whom all worlds were made.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)

Pastor: God of light and life, you speak even when we do not hear. You are present even when we do not sense you are near. In the midst of darkness and silence, we listen for your voice and long to feel your comforting grace.

Congregation: God of the desperate, draw near us as we draw near to you. Open our eyes so we can see you; open our ears so we can hear.

Reader: “My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick… For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.  Is there no balm in Gilead?  Is there no physician there…?  O, that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night…”  (Jeremiah 8:18,21-9:1)                    

Pastor: In this place, we join with the prophets in freely admitting our pain, our loss, our fear. Though the light of God’s mercy illuminates our tears, we mourn without shame. Here, among God’s people, we are welcome even if we're cynical, even if we're angry, even if we scoff at the mention of hope and meaning. Here we can bare our hearts to those who will help us to bear our burden.

Congregation: Here we, the followers of a weeping Savior, bear one another’s burdens.

Pastor: Here, in the company of those who follow the Prince of Peace, let us be at peace. 

Congregation: May we, the church, be a sanctuary of God’s peace for those in need of shelter.

Pastor: We will cast our sorrows upon Christ, for He cares for us.

Reader: “My soul is dry and thirsts for You, True God, as a deer thirsts for water. I long for the True God who lives.
When can I stand before Him and feel His comfort? Right now I’m overwhelmed by my sorrow and pain;
I can’t stop feasting on my tears.
People crowd around me and say,
“Where is your True God whom you claim will save?” With a broken heart,
I remember times before
When I was with Your people. Those were better days. I used to lead them happily into the True God’s house,
Singing with joy, shouting thanksgivings with abandon,
joining the congregation in the celebration. Why am I so overwrought?
Why am I so disturbed?
Why can’t I just hope in God?
(Psalm 42:1-6)


 God over the darkness, God over the light

God of those who bring us peace, God of those who fight

God of all the smiling faces, God of those who mourn

God of those in happy families, God of the forlorn


God, we lift up broken hands

And with our broken voices

We lift up a broken praise…


God over the empty hearts, God over the full

God over the kindly faces, God over the cruel

God of all that brings up hope, God of all our fear

God of those who never listen, God of those who hear


God, we lift up lonely hands

And with our lonely voices

We lift up a lonely praise….


God over the living, God over the dead

God over the hungry, God over the fed

God of all the crucifixions, God of all the graves

God of all the resurrections, That haven’t happened yet today….


God, we lift up open hands

And with our lonely voices

We lift up a broken praise….

 - original song by Garageband and Anthony, punched up considerably by Nathan Gilmore, Tom and Becky Childs, and Ken Daniels)


 Reader: “Despite all my emotions, I will believe and praise the One
who saves me and is my life… in the light of day, the Eternal shows me His love.
When night settles in and all is dark, He keeps me company—His soothing song, a prayerful melody to the True God of my life.” (Psalm 42:7-8) 

Pastor: As we lift our broken hands toward the only One who can heal us, we light the darkness of our memories with candles that help us to remember that though our grief is real, our hope burns brightly with the light of the True God of life.

We light our first candle to acknowledge the pain of loss: the loss of relationships, the loss of jobs, the loss of health. We take the pain of the past, offering it to God from whose nail-scarred hands we may receive the gift of peace. We light this candle for the light of love to illuminate that which was lost in the darkness of our history.

 Congregation: Renew us, God of light and joy.

Pastor: We light the second candle to remember those who have died. We remember their name, their face, their voice, the memory that we carry with us. We remember the times we laughed, argued, loved, hugged, smiled, and wept. The valley of the shadow of death can seem relentless, so we light this candle to commemorate the memories of a life once shared, and to illuminate with comfort the path that those of us who mourn.

 Congregation:  May the light of a dying and risen Savior’s eternal love surround us.

Pastor: We light the third candle to our attitudes, our mindset, our hidden, inner times of darkness.  We acknowledge the times of disbelief, anger, despair, and frustration, the times we have compromised our integrity and lost our innocence. We bring God’s pure light to the depth of our flawed mortality. With this light, we also remember the family and friends who have stood with us, and the Savior who is faithful even when we are not.

Congregation:  Let us remember that Christ brings the light of life.

Pastor: We light the fourth candle to remember those who feel alone, who feel isolated from loved ones, far from home, far from friends, far from a God they believe is unconcerned with their suffering. We light this candle to remember that the God who guided His people through a wilderness with fire can illuminate the way of those captive to the darkness of loneliness and disillusionment.

Congregation:  O God, who was despised and rejected, comfort the lonely and brokenhearted.                                                                                                                   

Pastor: We light the fifth candle to remember those who are in the midst of hardships that threaten to overwhelm them. For the poor, the persecuted, the hungry, and the homeless, the sick. We lift up those who suffer the pain, indignity, and bewilderment that accompany a broken body, spirit or soul. We pray that God, who lit up the night to guide wise men to the healing Christ, will light the way today to a Risen Savior. 

Congregation: O God, light our path; bring hope to the hopeless; make us new.

Pastor: We light the sixth candle to remember our faith and the gift of hope. We remember that God promises those who love him a world with no more pain and suffering. We light a candle for courage in the darkness. We confront our sorrow, our loss, our confusion. With God’s Spirit and the presence of his people, we bring the light of comfort to each other, bearing each other’s burdens, and praying for hope in our broken world.

 Congregation.  Let us remember the One who draws beauty from ashes, brings the truth, and offers us hope.

Reader: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”  (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

Pastor: It is through the suffering of Christ that we find comfort in the midst of our suffering as well.  On the night Jesus offered himself up for us he took bread, gave thanks to you, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said: "Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." When the supper was over he took the cup, gave thanks to you, gave it to his disciples, and said: "Drink from this, all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Congregation: Because of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, we have been delivered from the power of sin, death, and despair. In the light of Gods’ Word, the sacrifice of Christ, and the presence of God’s Holy Spirit, may we endure with hope and faith.

 Pastor: It was in His parting sorrow that Jesus asked His disciples to remember Him. In remembrance of all that has been accomplished through the life and death of Jesus Christ, we partake of the symbols of Christ's sacrifice for us. In the breaking of this bread and the drinking of this wine, may we experience in a new way the presence of the resurrected Christ.        

 Congregation: May we, the church, be united in the fellowship of his suffering so we can experience the power of his resurrection.

 Pastor: (Invitation to Communion and Commemoration)


 In the morning, when I rise, Give me Jesus 

You can have all this world

Just give me Jesus.


Oh, When I am alone, Give me Jesus 

You can have all this world

Give me Jesus.


Oh, When I come to die, Give me Jesus 

You can have all this world

Give me Jesus.

 - “Give Me Jesus” (as done by All Sons and Daughters)


 Reader: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals.  He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’  And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’  (Revelation 21:1-5)

Pastor: In Christ, we find comfort in the midst of sorrow. In the promise of God’s never-ending love from which nothing can separate us, we claim peace. We long for the day when there shall be no more tears, no more sorrow, no more sickness, no more death. Even when we see only a glimmer, we know the light of your love is overcoming all darkness.

 Congregation: Christ himself is with us.  He is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

 Pastor: Hear the good news:  God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life. One day, Christ who died and rose again will wipe all tears from our eyes. He will make all things new.

Congregation: All Honor and glory to the only One who can bring us peace.

Pastor: As we wait for Resurrection, we lift up our broken hearts.

Congregation: We offer them to the Lord of Life.

Pastor: May the God of Comfort be with you.

Congregation: May the God of Resurrection be with us all.


NOTE: I had never written a liturgy or a lament before this one. I found four or five online, read them for a week, then wrote this one. In other words, I could not have written this without learning from others.  I think one of those can be found at Blue Christmas Resources; another at A Service for Longest Night. Unfortunately, I have no idea where I found the rest of them. I tried hard not to plagiarize; I hope I succeeded. 

Embrace Grief and Loss (Emotionally Healthy Church Part 5)

Gerald and Lydia Sittser and their children were driving through Iowa in 1991 when a drunk driver hit them at 85 mph. Gerald lost his mother, his wife and a four-year-old child in moment. He sat beside the isolated highway and watched them die. He eventually wrote the following in a book entitled A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss:

“Catastrophic loss by definition precludes recovery. It will transform us or destroy us, but it will never leave us the same… It is not true that we become less through our loss – unless we allow the loss to make us less, grinding our soul down until there is nothing left. Loss can also make us more. I did not get over my loved ones; rather, I absorbed the loss into my life until it became part of who I am. Sorrow took up permanent residence in my soul and enlarged it… One learns the pain of others by suffering one’s own pain, by turning inside oneself, by finding one’s own soul… The soul is elastic, like a balloon. It can grow larger through suffering.

Life is characterized by loss. The weather changes. Cars break down. Favorite shows go off the air.  We move into a new house. We leave a community and lose friends. Pets die. We lose our youth and our health. Then there is the loss of a marriage, of a parent, of a vocation, a dream, a life.

But though life is full of loss, it’s also full of new life. Age brings things that youth can’t. Some weather changes are good. We can enjoy new cars, houses, friends, pets, shows. The losses that threaten to overwhelm can enlarge us, deepen us, offer us something unexpectedly blessed on the other side. But the unexpected blessing follows the loss.  Hope follows grief. Character follows the furnace in which that character was forged.

So as followers of Christ who want our emotional health to reflect the character and heart of God, let’s look at a biblical perspective on grief and loss.

Enter into your Grief

When King David’s friend Jonathan died, we read the following in 1 Samuel 1:17-27:

 “Then David composed a funeral song for Saul and Jonathan, and he commanded that it be taught to the people of Judah. It is known as the Song of the Bow, and it is recorded in The Book of Jashar:

‘Your pride and joy, O Israel, lies dead on the hills!
Oh, how the mighty heroes have fallen! Don’t announce the news in Gath,
don’t proclaim it in the streets of Ashkelon,
or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice
and the pagans will laugh in triumph.

O mountains of Gilboa,
let there be no dew or rain upon you, nor fruitful fields producing offerings of grain. For there the shield of the mighty heroes was defiled; the shield of Saul will no longer be anointed with oil. The bow of Jonathan was powerful,
 and the sword of Saul did its mighty work.
They shed the blood of their enemies
 and pierced the bodies of mighty heroes.

How beloved and gracious were Saul and Jonathan! They were together in life and in death.
They were swifter than eagles,
stronger than lions. O women of Israel, weep for Saul,
for he dressed you in luxurious scarlet clothing,
in garments decorated with gold. Oh, how the mighty heroes have fallen in battle! Jonathan lies dead on the hills.

How I weep for you, my brother Jonathan!
Oh, how much I loved you!
And your love for me was deep,
deeper than the love of a mother or wife! Oh, how the mighty heroes have fallen! Stripped of their weapons, they lie dead.’”

It wasn’t just that David mourned the loss of his friend. He ordered it to be recorded and taught to thousands; it was written and named. It’s not a song with a happy ending. It’s just a primal mourning for the loss of a great friend. The world had changed. Goodness had been lost. It ought to be remembered, grieved, commemorated, never forgotten.

The depth of our grief reveals the weight of the thing we lost.When is the last time we considered that God is honored when his people offer songs of lament about their grief and loss?  Jesus was a “man of sorrow, acquainted with grief.” If grief is a gauge of love, then both his love and his grief was deep. Perhaps we, too, should grieve deeply that which we love deeply, and do it without shame. If nothing else, we show all those around us what matters most in life.

Embrace the Journey

There was a day between Good Friday and Resurrection. In some traditions it’s called Holy Saturday, or Black Saturday, or Saturday of Lights. It’s that day between death and resurrection where all that was happening was burial. The Apostles Creed notes not simply that Jesus died and rose again; he died, was buried, and then was resurrected.    

“It is a long day, this Silent Saturday. In many ways it represents life as it is for all of us. Though we like to say that we live on the other side of Easter, and that of course is true in the ultimate sense, it is also true that we live somewhere between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The crucifixion is behind us, but death is still with us and the final victory lies somewhere in the future.”  - Ray Pritchard, “Silent Saturday,” crosswalk.com

Silent Saturday is the day after the funeral, the weeks after the job loss or surgery, the months after the divorce, the years after a dream died. This is the dreaded in-between, that place where it feels like nothing is happening. We wonder if there is something wrong with us as people (or as Christians). Do I lack faith or dedication? Are God’s promises even real?

It’s important that we remember that God is just as present in these in-between times. The burial day for Jesus was part of God’s plain. It wasn’t the pain of loss; it wasn’t yet the triumph of new life. It was…burial.  It was a time that tested faith and hope. 

  • Psalm 27;13-14: “I believe that I will look upon the goodness of the Lord in the Land of the living. Wait for the Lord…be strong…take courage…wait for the Lord.”
  • Psalm 33:20: “My soul waits for the Lord…”
  • The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)
  • James 5:11: “We consider those blessed who remain steadfast…”

These are not wasted times in the Kingdom of God. Peter Scazzero uses the analogy of compost. As we throw scraps on the garden, we see the broken husks of things that were once full of life but are now empty shells. It seems as if their story is over. But give it time – from that which was dead will spring new life. It’s in these times that some of the best formation and preparation happens for the new life that is to come.

 See the Loss in the Light of the Gain

God is able to salvage the broken parts of the world.  Paul writes in Romans 8:28 that “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”

This is not a promise of earthly happiness and ease, but of spiritual and eternal goods. How do we know? Because the verses before talk about how “creation groans” in its broken state, and the verses after that don’t claim that will change in this life. Paul notes that God will use these situations so that we will be “conformed to the image of His Son.” We will be called, then justified (or made righteous) and ultimately “glorified.” So in what ways can grief and sorrow conform us to the image of Christ?


“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)


“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can endure all these things because Christ strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11–1

We increasingly realize that this world is not our home, the people matter more than things, that time is precious, that the truly good things in life are not found in money, or health, or entertainment, or fame.


When God responds to Job, God does not tell Job the why. He basically asks Job, “Do you understand how limited your power and perspective is? Do you trust me even if you don’t (or can’t) understand?” Job responds, “Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” (Job 42:3)

I don’t know why my dad died so young. I heard, “God wanted him home.” Stop it. You don’t know. “God knew that in the future he might fall away.” Stop!  I even heard the “lack of faith. Should have claimed his healing more boldly.”  Really? You know this?

The Bible does not clarify why God allows us to suffer in a particular instance. There are broader principles: free will, a fallen world, God’s glory, our benefit (pruning), Satan’s schemes. But this particular time may not be known until after the fact, maybe not until we reach heaven and can see truth and reality clearly.


Paul said his suffering was “for the sake of the body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).  Our suffering enables us to more fully “bear another’s burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). As we pass on the comfort of God, we are in turn comforted. We gain an appreciation for the community of the broken, journeying together toward a resurrection. We recognize the importance of the moment; we take risks we might not have before because we recognize that life is a vapor, and some things must be done now or they might not be done at all. We reach out and look up more than ever.

Experiencing God

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11)

“Know” in the original language means to “know through experience.”  If we want to experience Christ’s resurrection in us, we must share in his suffering. We enter into the life Christ offers when we enter into the life He lived – in its fullness. We must know one to know the other.


“Do not lose heart,” said Paul, “for our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding glory that outweighs them all…” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). What we suffer is “not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).


**The posts in this series (Look Beneath The SurfaceBreak the Power of the PastLive in Brokenness, The Gift Of Limits) are built from a summary of notes I used when preaching a sermon series based on Peter Scazzero's Emotionally Healthy Church and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (both the books and the study guides). Most of the main points comes from his work. I note when I quote him directly, but most of what you read are this insights paraphrased or adjusted to fit my audience and venue. Learn more at his website and his blog, and by all means order his books and read them thoroughly.

 Some Recommend Songs

 Mercy Me (“I Can Only Imagine”; “Homesick”)

Tenth Avenue North (“Hold My Heart”; “Worn”)

 Steven Curtis Chapman (“With Hope”)

Julie Miller (“You Can Have My Heart”)

Adam Again (River On Fire"; "Babylon")


Some Recommended Books

Robert Kelleman, God’s Healing for Life’s Losses

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed and The Problem of Pain

Timothy Keller, Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering

Phillip Yancey, Where is God When It Hurts?

Comfort One Another With These Words

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore comfort one another with these words."                                              1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

     There are three main observations in this section of Scripture:

Death brings grief.
Because Christ rose, Death does not have the final word. Comfort one another with the hope of the final Resurrection.

   The fact that death brings grief is really not earth-shattering.  People have always grieved death. But I appreciate how the Bible does not look away from real life.  There is no avoidance here.  Life is sometimes very hard, and it does us no good to look away.  There is something about entering into even the most painful emotions  and events that is important in a road to recovery.

    At the time Paul was writing this, the Jews had a variety of opinions about the afterlife, including a concept pretty close to our idea of Heaven, reincarnation, or annihilation.  No matter what they believed, there was a very methodical process to be sure the dead were honored: rituals for a day, three days, a week, a month, three months, a year, and yearly.  It’s not a process intended to consume them with grief, but to help them acknowledge a grievous loss and move on without forgetting the ones they loved.
    But the Greek/Roman culture didn’t just acknowledge grief; they indulged grief. When friends and family died, they hired people to play a dirge on a pipe or trumpet, or  to howl and lament in a dismal manner. They shrieked and tore their clothes and hair; they put dust on their heads, or sat down in ashes. This was a ritual of despair. 
    “Gladiator” contains a scene where Maximus is reunited with his wife and son after he dies.  It’s moving, but it’s just not accurate historically.  The Greeks and Romans  grieved mightily because they thought death was absolutely the end.  In fact the Stoics thought you were absorbed into the universe. Catullus wrote, "When once our brief day has set, we must sleep one everlasting night." 
      Some among the new converts in Thessalonica apparently doubted whether there would be any resurrection.  Those who accepted it were afraid that that the dead were cut off from the hope of eternal happiness with Christ, so their grief was more like the Gentiles in despair, "as those who had no hope."
     Paul looks back to Christ's resurrection to lay a foundation for why they had a reason to view death differently:

   “For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him." 

     Since Jesus died and rose again, showing his power over death itself, we know that the power of life and death is under God’s control.  Having established that foundation,  Paul writes what is apparently the first written message to the Church about the return of Christ. 

According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

     This is a brilliant image, but a little background is necessary to fully appreciate the message.
     In 42 BC, Roman law deified Julius Caesar.  Poets celebrated the divinity associated with Augustus, and across the empire coins, monuments, temples and artwork promoted the cult of Augustus. The language of emperor worships contained a lot of words or phrases with which we are familiar today:

  • "Son of God"
  • "Faith" in the "Lord"
  • "A Gospel" about a "Savior" who brought "salvation"

     The Romans would gather together in something they called ekklesia, an assembly, where they would sometimes wait for the parousia, or triumphant return, of Ceasar ( or a Roman general or emperor) after an important military victory.  The citizens would go out to meet him and then escort him back into the city.  
Trumpets blew; crowds shouted; celebrants waved burning incense as a way of offering thanks for victory. 
      If commentators and historians are correct, Paul uses this image, so familiar to his audience, to describe a spiritual event--the most important spiritual event in this age.  

  • Churches were the true ekklesiai where the faithful citizens of heaven worshipped the true Lord and King
  • The church awaits the parousia, the triumphant return of Jesus, the king who has won the greatest spiritual victory there is. Through his death and resurrection, he has paid the penalty for our sins and thus conquered both physical and spiritual death.  
  • Just as loyal citizens went out of the city to escort Caesar home after a visit to the colonies, believers will go out to meet Jesus at his parousia and return with him in triumph.
  • The fanfare that accompanied the return of Ceasar is earthly; the fanfare that accompanies the return of Jesus will be heavenly. 

     Then, it appears Paul uses another great physical analogy – going to meet the returning, triumphant King in the clouds of the air – to address the fear the new Christians had that the dead would miss out on this great day. Paul wrote:

“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1, KJV)

   The word for “cloud” here in reference to the multitude of followers of Christ is the same word used in 1 Thessalonians 4.  Paul makes the analogy that when the triumphant King returns, we will join the “cloud of witnesses” – all who have given their lives to God – to usher in the true Emperor and Lord. 
     One day, we will be taken fully into the presence of Christ along with everyone else who committed their lives to him, living or dead.  
     “Comfort one another with these words.”
 If you are interested in a blog that primarily addresses how we as Christians find hope in the midst of grief and loss, visit (http://learningtojump.blogspot.com)