When the Church Mourns
The past few days have been a time of great sadness for the Summit Church family. Late Sunday night, we received word that Bob & Julie Henn’s son Nate was killed in the terrorist bombing in Uganda. Nate was in the country working with Invisible Children, an organization that helps war-affected children in East Africa. You can read the amazing account of Nate’s life here.
If you live in the RDU area, you also saw on the news that Nate’s brother was involved in a plane crash as he was flying here to grieve with his family. While his injuries were not life threatening, the pilot of the private plane (a co-worker) was killed and the co-pilot was critically injured.
Shortly after noon on Monday, Chai Atwood passed away. He was the infant son of Trevor and Keva Atwood, born on Sunday in the 26th week of pregnancy. Trevor and Keva are not only part of our church family, but our staff family as well, and we weep with them. You can find out more about Chai’s story here.
And then Monday afternoon, long-time Summit member Helen Young passed away after a battle with cancer. Helen was a gracious lady and she and her husband Walter have been faithful leaders both in our church and community. She had a heart for the nations and participated in many overseas mission trips with the Summit throughout the years.
In processing these events, I’m reminded that the church has a responsibility to mourn well. More than any other moment, death gives us the opportunity to love authentically and walk faithfully with those who have been directly impacted.
I was drawn back to Gary Thomas’ writings for help in expressing how the church mourns best. Here’s what he says in Authentic Faith:
I wonder how it would be possible to be “done mourning” and still be part of a church. While I suppose, in very rare circumstances, that it’s possible a person might not have anything personally to mourn over, if a Christian truly wants to be done mourning, she had better not read the newspaper. She had better sit by herself at church. She had better stop her ears when prayer requests are offered. And she had better learn how to achieve a state of moral perfection.
Otherwise, how will she protect herself from stories of couples who love the Lord but are still slammed in the face on a monthly basis with the painful reality of their infertility? How can she love fellow believers who have been praying for their relatives to become Christians for decades, but who watch with anguish as their loved ones pass into eternity without sumbitting to Jesus Christ? How can she escape sadness when others with whom she is called to fellowship inevitably face the struggles, burdens, and pain of a fallen world? And how will she repent when she does something that grieves our Lord? To be “delivered” from mourning is to be delivered into a lonely existence, cut off from real life, and, even worse, cut off from real love…there is no real love without real mourning.
The time will come when all of us will be done mourning – but that time is not now; that time doesn’t exist on this earth. We need to mourn. Mourning invites us to a deeper life. It takes us beyond the surface to give us a glimpse of the world as God sees it. Biblically speaking, living life without some degree of mourning is worse than naive; it betrays lack of wisdom. “For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief,” Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 1:18.
…mourning isn’t seen as something to run from but something to learn from.
Summit family, how do you mourn? Are you weeping with those who weep? Are you praying for those who grieve? Are you serving those who – for now – don’t have the strength to serve themselves?
Are you learning from your mourning, or avoiding it?