“A Sermon on the Subject of Grief”

II Samuel 1:1, 17-27

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost


“I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; for your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.”

Every time the lectionary places those words in our path, they call to mind Wayne Oates’ powerful old observation, “Grief is the aftermath of any deeply felt loss.”

In this morning’s lesson from Second Samuel, David has lost both Saul, with whom he had a profoundly complex relationship, and Jonathan, who was, apparently, David’s nearest and dearest friend; the news of their death plunging David into that grief which Wayne Oates calls, “The aftermath of any deeply felt loss”; the kind of grief which all of us have known, or will know, at some point in our lives; most of us more than once.

And, not always because of death.  Sometimes it is death which plunges us into grief, as was the case in today’s lesson when David heard that Saul and Jonathan had died.  But, sometimes, it is something other than death which sends us into grief.  The loss of a relationship, the loss of our physical mobility or mental clarity, the loss of a cherished dream or a familiar home, the loss of a pet, the loss of a job, the loss of financial security, the loss of our most basic assumptions about how life would turn out for us; not to mention the anticipatory grief we sometimes feel concerning the way things are likely to be in the future; what I call grieving forward.  All of which is to say that the list is long of reasons why all of us, at some time in our lives, will feel the waves of grief washing over us; sometimes, when we least expect it.

Which, of course, is one reason why we need one another, why we so deeply need the family of faith.  As the poet Mary Oliver once wrote, “That time I thought I could not go any closer to grief without dying, I did go closer.  But, I did not die.  Surely God had a hand in this, as well as friends.”

Indeed, isn’t it so?  That we are able to bear our worst grief without being crushed beneath it, or finished by it, is a miracle that God surely has a hand in, as well as friends, including our family of faith friends, who keep walking beside us, over and over again, through the depth of grief, and to the table of communion.