This past weekend, I was in Orlando, Florida for the funeral of an uncle. My Uncle David was the youngest of my mother’s siblings dying at the age of sixty. Diabetes took it’s toll on David’s body and finally that body gave out. David leaves behind a grieving widow and five children, three of which are too young to have to have to deal with losing a parent.
David was an active of an Apostolic church in nearby Sanford. As we went to the viewing at the funeral home and the next day at the church, I came to face to face with all those cliches you hear when someone dies. “God is in control.” “He’s not in pain anymore.” “This all happens for a reason.”
My seminary trained brain tells me I’m not supposed to accept such trivial sayings. I’ve learned that such words just cover up the pain that people are really going through. I’m supposed to see such sayings as a twisting of theology and incredibly insensitive to those suffering.
I know that’s what I’m supposed to think.
But now I don’t mind hearing them. Not after dealing with what I’ve dealt with.
After hearing my mother, who is nearly 20 years older than David, wail at the loss the boy she helped raise- after seeing my cousins and my Aunt deal with the indescribable, I really don’t have a problem with people trying to offer some words of hope-even if they are cliches.
Fellow Disciple Christian Piatt, has been doing a series of blog posts on cliches that Christians should avoid. He starts with some of the common ones that are said during tragedies, and then goes into some that are more general. While I get what he is trying to communicate, there is something a bit high-handed about all of this. As I heard some of the cliches said, I reminded myself that some of these folks took time on a Sunday afternoon to come out and be with the family. Their actions of love and concern spoke a lot louder than their words.
But there was something else that spoke to me during this time. As I sat in the funeral service and heard the pastor use some well-worn cliches, he also reminded me, reminded all of us, that even in the midst of our pain and mourning, we know that death doesn’t have the final word. In the middle of all those cliches, there was hope, hope in the coming resurrection, hope in the day when all creation will be healed.
Christian has ten antidotes to the Christian cliches. I’ve read them, and maybe I need to read them a few times more, but it’s hard to see where the hope is, to see where Christ the Healer is. He has some good advice, but in many ways he doesn’t speak the good news of Christ: the belief that God is with even when darkness falls.
Of course, context matters. There are times that such cliches are not helpful. But sometimes, those worn phrases can be a balm to those grieving.
Faith is not about not saying the right words as much as it is about being present with people and preaching the good news. At least that’s what I learned this week at a funeral.