When you think of the many reasons that might lead you to celebrate, odds are that this experience would not make your top 10 or even your top 100. And yet, as a believer in Christ, the truest promise of salvation should be our greatest cause of celebration. Inexhaustibly matched by a Father’s joy and overwhelmed by the hope found in Jesus, grief is a journey of discovery of each of these. What then, if we intentionally began this journey from this perspective?
At a mere eleven in years, I had found one of the greatest teachers that I would ever have. Standing at 5′ 3 she was spunky, compassionate, enthusiastic about grammar, and a paradox of interests and gifts. Her two favorite loves were unquestionably Jesus and Magnum PI, both of whom adorned her personal grading and lesson plan book. That sixth grade year, she would have me both detesting and embracing the fine art of diagramming sentences. I also found that year a teacher that took a genuine interest in every single student that walked into her class. Though she would certainly have not chosen favorites, she was undoubtedly mine.
And then suddenly she was gone.
Sitting in my kitchen that Sunday evening, the phone rang. How odd, I thought, it was that one of my teachers called to speak to my mother, seeing as how she taught high school. Yet, apparently I wasn’t the only one who knew how much this amazing teacher and woman of faith meant to me. As my mother relayed what had transpired since Friday with a sudden illness and complications, I sat motionless. Though hearing the words, I could not connect the series of events to the fact I would never see her again. The following day, when the principal addressed the students with the news, I laid claim to grief. And still, I felt the best way to honor her, would be to be present in her Father’s house, though I wasn’t sure where her church was. “Are you sure, Elizabeth..are you sure you want to go to the funeral?”, my mother asked. “Yes, I need to say goodbye..would you go with me?” “Of course ” she said,”let me find out the arrangements”.
As we walked up to that small white church, the music carried out the open windows on the cool fall breeze. Entering in, I was ready to say goodbye but not for the lesson of love to come. While it mattered little to me, and to anyone else gathered, that my mother and I were not of African American descent I did wonder what they must of thought of why I was there. And even I was unsure that I had the right place. For, gone were the somber clothes of black and grey, and in its place instead was a vibrant array of color. Bright flowers, and joyful songs raised in praise revealed not sadness but unparalleled hope in the life that awaited. Though it was almost more than a little girl in mourning could take- it was the very thing that was needed.
That night my heart was full of questions. How could they sing when the loss is so new..did they not miss her too? Didn’t they know it was a funeral and not a birthday? That was it! They sang because it was a birthday of sorts, not an end but a beginning of a new eternal life with God. They celebrated the fact that their joy for her in the promise of heaven could more than bear their loss. To this very day I cannot think of funerals in the same way that I did before. Do I mourn? Yes, but I also sing..and celebrate!
My life flows on in endless song;
above earth’s lamentation,
I catch the sweet, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?
Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing? [Refrain]
What though my joys and comforts die?
I know my Savior liveth.
What though the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth. [Refrain]
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
a fountain ever springing!
All things are mine since I am his!
How can I keep from singing? [Refrain]
“How Can I Keep From Singing”, Robert Lowry, 1826-1899