On Handling Grief

September 1 2019 



II Cor 1:4 He comforts us in all our afflictions that we may be able to comfort others in any troubles of theirs.


Let me give the prelude to this sermon by saying this sermon was written in response to the deaths of Nick Dalaly and Harold Tupper.   Harold’s service will be here next Saturday and Nick’s service the last Saturday of the month.  The details are in the bulletin today.


The Bible has endured in large measure because it has helped men and women deal with the unwelcome   This is the subject the Apostle Paul treats as he writes to the Christian church in Corinth.  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ the father of all mercies and the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our affliction that we (in turn) may be able to comfort others.


Paul knew all too well the stresses and strains people are heir to.  And while he is not exclusively dealing with grief here, I should like to extract his words and apply them as they relate to grief and loss 


Let me launch out into this subject to point out first and foremost that our faith is bold in dealing with death.  If you come to church every week it stares you in the faceBit’s in the hymns, the creeds, the prayers.  I visited an Episcopal church in Bryn Mawr Pa.  and to get into the sanctuary you had to walk through the church graveyard.  I thought that was brilliant– to remind everyone, young and old, that the clock is ticking.  


I say this about the church because society, in contrast, has a way of denying death.  Even when you see ads on t.v. with older folk as the pitch me and women they always look young and vital.  


George Burns has a lot of great lines about getting older but the best is this one: AI’m at the age when flowers scare me.@


When our time comes to handle grief as Christians, the subject will not catch us unawares.   We have heard about death  Sunday in and Sunday out.  It is in our prayers, our hymns, our Scriptures.     When I phoned Sue Dalaly last week to give my sympathy about Nick she said:  >We are just passing through.@  Now there is wisdom gained from being in church every week.  Every week in worship we are confronted with three questions:  Where did I come from?  Why am I here?  Where am I going?  


So back to I Corinthians 1.   “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ the father of all mercies and the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our affliction that we (in turn) may be able to comfort others.”  Notice Paul=s first emphasis is to fix our gaze on GodBhe does not begin with an analysis of our afflictions, does not launch into a treatise as to whether life is fair or not.  None of that.  He begins with who God is and what God does.


Blessed be God.  What an opening for people in distress.  He moves on to give three different ascriptions of God.  (1)First, God is the father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Nothing is more critical in our seasons of grief than the view we hold of God.  He is to be understood as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is, in the suggestive phrase of John AT Robinson,  Athe human face of God.@  We know how Jesus identifies with our suffering, how he himself suffered for us. We know God stands with us in our grief; precisely because Jesus stands with us in our grief.  


(2) Second, He is also the Father of all mercies.  The Lord God is merciful and gracious we hear in Psalm 103.  His mercy is from age to age.  No beginning. No end to God=s mercy.  It just is. In all times, in all places, in all situations.  


(3) He is also to be understood as the God of all comfort.  AComfort ye, comfort ye, my people” the tenor sings in Handel=s Messiah.  God does not sit in far off heaven twiddling his thumbs, unfeeling and unconcerned.


I remember being called to a family’s home just after their son had been killed in a traffic accident.  I did not know the family well.  They were sporadic church members.  We had had few points of contact before this.  I was thinking on the way over, “What shall I say?    


When I got there and the mother opened the door, I instinctively reached out and  hugged her and just shook my head.  For the longest time, as friends and family gathered and had quiet conversations,   I didn’t say much 


But the very fact that I was there showed  that the church cared.  God’s comfort was mediated.  A heavy load was made a tad bit more bearable.    


Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel has given us these thoughts:  “The Bible is God’s anthropology not man’s theology.”  The intent of Scripture is to show how much God is identified with us and with what transpires in the human story.  The Bible is not primarily speculative.  It is not concerned about what God is like in his essence, His nature, His timeless qualities but rather to help us understand that God is present with us, always above us, around us, and in us.    At the very heart of the universe, and we must supremely remember  in our moments of affliction, is a never-failing fountain of mercy and comfort



I am reading the biography of Henry Sloan Coffin, one of the towering Presbyterian figures of the last century.  Best known as pastor of the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City and president of Union Seminary in N.Y., Coffin was everything a Presbyterian minister should be: pastor, scholar, teacher, leader.   He wrote this letter to a young man whose fiancé had just died.  “I have just learned of the very great sorrow that has come to You.  It could not be a sorer loss.  You have my heart with you in tender sympathy.  There is nothing to say but that God remains, and He is home for those who go and for those of us who stay, and in Him we still meet and are one.  Your life as it moves along in His purposes will never be remote from hers.”  


By the time we reach our 30’s and 40’s, and in some events when we are far younger, we lose someone who is dearer than life itself.  When my daughter’s first baby died I was surprised to learn how many women in my church at Litchfield Park had lost children.  I realized that all of us were in the fellowship of grievers.  


And now that my granddaughter would be 16 or 17 and I have lost so many beloved friends since then, I realize the power of Scripture and the power of our text today.  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who comforts us in all our afflictions.”  Take these words and put them on your refrigerator door or tuck them in to a place near your heart.   For they will sustain you as long as you live.