I have been a part of three funerals in the last two months.
One, a 36 year old mom who had dealt with cancer for years.
Another, a 42 year old dad who had passed suddenly and without warning.
The third, a newborn baby who had not developed and breathed life for only a few short hours in this world.
Three families. Three stories. Three unfolding narratives of acceptance, loss, and adjustment. Three twists, interrupting our regularly scheduled programming to change the script entirely.
We have questions, queries, and complaints. Why...? What for...? Why not...?
We all become investigative reporters into the story of God when grief is our lead.
Yet after the scent of flowers fades, the extended family has returned to their rhythms and routines in other parts of the world, and the casseroles are eaten, baking pans washed and returned, there is a strange stillness.
Something has happened. Something has changed. Yet everything else begs to return to sameness.
The kids need to go to school on time. The cars need gas. The bills need paid. The holidays are on the way...
What we really want in these moments is for someone to grant us an exemption - a pass on life for a while - so that we can get our heads on straight. We can deal with things, figure things out, "find ourselves" (whatever that means).
Yes, this is an idealistic way of thinking like "One day I'll get my stuff together" or "One day I'll figure out this relationship" and frankly when grief and mortality crash into each other there's no promise that we'll ever get over it or past it or above it.
We will go through it, this we know. We walk through the valley of the shadow.
There is a hidden warmth in this cold screen, however. There's a light in the great darkness that easily escapes our grasp.
Compassion. "Com-" meaning "with" and "-passion" meaning "feeling." To feel with.
For Jesus, compassion was painted in Greek as "to be moved in the bowels" - the fabric of His body shook and turned as He stepped into someone else's darkness.
Sheep without a shepherd, I feel that with you. To be lost. To be scared. To be helpless.
Jesus never pitied anyone, He loved too greatly to put Himself on a pedestal and look down on all those "poor peons wrestling with this trivial body." Jesus was embodied, He was flesh and so He knew that flesh feels.
He knew that grief, and all suffering, is not only a state of mind but also a feeling in our bodies.
We feel it because it is a reminder to us. One day, we will fall. We will falter, these energies will quit us and go on their own way, moving to younger locations and broader horizons.
It will come like an overnight snow, this closing of our mortality, and we'll wake and measure it and marvel at how it came without our knowledge or permission.
Knowing that we're mortal, we're finite, and we are bound to end this state of being should drive us to feel with - drive us to compassion.
Compassion becomes the spiritual discipline of feeling our own death and mortality in part with others who are feeling it in whole.
I believe in compassion, because without it I cannot be with you at all. I believe in compassion, because without it I become drunk on my own visions of immortality. I believe in compassion, because without it the resurrection is a story or a rumor or a folk tale instead of a necessity.
Compassion takes energy, which we gain by trusting that we walk a path where Jesus Himself has walked, and calling ourselves over and over to feel with those who are aching because we ARE with them. The same flesh, the same blood, the same world.
We feel with, because we are with. Jesus, help us to feel with today - even when our proximity to the light of our own mortality makes us want to turn our heads. It is not just their suffering, it is ours too.