Death has been close to us at Ann Street lately; we have had funerals both of the last Saturdays. Both people died of malignant brain tumors; both were diagnosed last year. One was 84, and the other was 51.
The 84 year old was an endlessly gracious lady whom everyone loved. She was the kind of person who was determined not to let grief or suffering or illness get her down. She denied her diagnosis not because she did not believe that she had cancer but because she did not ever want her cancer to define her. Her funeral was a celebration of a long life well-lived, of a good death, and of her going home to heaven.
And then there was today's funeral. The 51 year old man we did the service for today fought his cancer valiantly for the 8 months since his diagnosis. His wife and two teenaged children sat on the front row today, and it was all I could do not to cry with them. And yet his funeral, in many ways, was both painful and joyful.
Our senior pastor addressed his children in the homily, telling them that it is unfair to them and to God to say that God has a plan for everything, a plan that included their father's death. We both said that God is big enough for our anger, fear, confusion, and hurt, and that while we don't know *why* their dad died, we know that God loved him, and that God loved through him.
All this is to say that if Lent is about identifying with death, specifically the death of Christ, it sucks. Death sucks. It sucks that both my 84 year old friend and the 51 year old dad had to die. It sucks that we have had to tell kids that the dad who only last year was kite-sailing, taking them out on the boat, going skiing, and generally being an active, loving, cool dad is dead, and we think it's unfair. And Jesus' death sucks. My husband just called it a necessary evil, and maybe so. That sucks too.
And I guess, when I really think about it, I'm kind of glad I don't blame God for every death, every tragedy. I think of the young lady from a church I pastored some years ago, who was paralyzed after a car accident. She's full of life and even done some "motivational" speaking. I think of the unrest in the Middle East, the earthquake in Japan (and subsequent tsunami), outbreaks of disease, war, famine...peril, nakedness, sword. None of that separates us from God's love, according to Romans 8. Neither height, nor depth, nor all of creation.
I know a pastor who (I'm certain, sadly) will be preaching tomorrow about God's punishment of Japan for the sin, likely, of being godless. Or perhaps the earthquake will be a punishment for us, for buying too many foreign goods. This same pastor swore Katrina was the wrath of God on godless New Orleans. I can't believe that. I won't, in fact. Death sucks too much, disaster sucks too much, to be the will and plan of a good God.
Maybe Lent is a time for thinking about what it means that God chooses not to intervene, to call a halt to stuff that sucks. Maybe it's a good time to think about what God's love looks like when even God's Son had to die, when even God had to deal with something that sucked. And what it means that God's love for us means that God mourns with us in our grief.