The lessons this week are marked by lamentation. One might wish to move some of these lessons around in the event of national catastrophe or even the remembrance of 9/11. But at the same time, on any given day, there are unspeakable losses somewhere, if not everywhere, people are hurting and grieving. Folk grieve losses lost long ago.

In the first lesson, David laments the loss of Saul and Jonathan. Those losses are complicated by David’s war to usurp the throne of Saul. From David’s perspective, which is the perspective from which the scriptures are written, David had the right to the throne because God gave it to him and Samuel anointed him in God’s Name. But there is not a monarch on earth, past or present – or president or warlord or military strongman — who would hand over their throne at the word of God even if they knew and respected the prophet and even if they shared the same God. To Saul, David was a usurper. And from any perspective, David was indirectly responsible for the deaths of Saul and Jonathan. His grief was complicated to say the least. And then there is Jonathan’s love for David. A love of which it is unclear whether it was requited. David is loved, by his first wife Michal and by Jonathan but he never articulates love for anyone. In his lament Jonathan is “lovely and beloved.” Passively loved by someone who is not articulated. If one imagines this is David acknowledging his love for Jonathan as publicly as he can, then how sad to be only be able to speak of this love after the death of the beloved and then, only in the passive anonymous voice. This text speaks to those things that can only be fully known and articulated after a significant death and, the journey to come to terms with that knowledge without the person whose loss revealed them. 

The canticle records a lament for the unfathomable loss of the lions of Judah, Josiah and his sons, whose loss marked the fall of Judah and its temple and the end of the line of David as a ruling house. There would be governors and foreign overlords and the Maccabees and kings and ruling queens would follow them but there was no more direct lineage to and from David and the throne. In the poetry of the lament, the Lioness of Judah, the Queen Mother is memorialized. It is her losses, the losses of cubs, cubs who had been kings that is chronicled. This element is a useful reminder that behind all of the levers of power are real people, the precious children of a mother and father or parent somewhere. That national and political harm is done to children and parents. And that even warlords and king and presidents and prime ministers came from a womb and a heart that nurtured and sustained them and likely loved and grieves them. We are all somebody’s child. 

The epistle holds space for our grief and laments while reminding us that our grief is different from that of some others. We have the sure hope of being with those we have lost through Jesus the Messiah, a sure hope, one that has been testified to by eyewitnesses. We will all rise as surely as Christ is risen. We will rise from the sleep of death and we will rise from the earth. Here I think of the ways in which our ancestors saw the skies as the heavens in which God dwells. They saw the field of lights in the dark of the night sky and saw life, purpose and intent in them. Some saw them as gods, others as angels. Now that we have visited those stars — they didn’t know that some of them were planets – now that we have landed on the moon and on Mars and sent cameras to Jupiter and Saturn, and Neptune and Uranus and Pluto and beyond, where is heaven? Where will we meet Jesus when we rise? Where is God’s home? I think of the old saying attributed to the earliest incarnation of Superman, “Up! Up! And away!”  One of the spirituals of my people says, “I know there is a God somewhere.” Our idea of heaven and earth, the sky, the atmospheric layers and the heavens are vastly different then what the author of the epistle saw as he looked up and contemplated God. But I know there is a God somewhere.

The gospel affirms that there is indeed a God somewhere and wherever it is that she is, that there is a place prepared for us there too. Jesus tells his disciples that he is going on ahead of them, ahead of us, to make sure that everything is ready when we arrive. In so doing he acknowledges and affirms our grief over those we have lost to death. He uses the imagery of pregnancy and birthing, focusing on the pain of labor and the joy that follows with a (live, healthy, wanted) birth. 

Together these lessons acknowledge and honor our grief and offer us hope to walk with us in our grief. They offer us the promise of heaven, now a much more interesting and diverse promise as we contemplate all we know about the stars, planets, galaxy and universe around our planet. There is indeed a God somewhere.