I can’t be sure, but I’d be willing to bet at least a couple of dollars that more than 80% of the funerals that I’ve been a part of in my seven years of ordained ministry have included a reading from Romans 8. The assigned passage for Sunday doesn’t include all of the lesson suggested in the Burial Office, but it does capture the key line for preaching, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” On this day, as the 24 hour news agencies can’t keep up with the carnage between a Malaysian Airlines 777 being possibly shot down over the disputed region of the Ukraine and Israeli Defense Forces beginning a ground assault on the Gaza Strip, this word of hope that Paul offers the struggling Church in Rome seems so very far away.
On days like today, it is easy to make Romans 8:18 into a nice platitude, “Oh, don’t worry hunny, this ain’t nothing compared to the glory to be revealed.” Heck, we can even turn it into a beach scene suitable for social media.
But I think most of us agree that people who say that sort of crap should be punched square in the mouth. Yes, it is true that joy and glory is a secure promise for those who are in Christ, but the reality is that suffering still happens on earth. People still do terrible things to other people. Sometimes nature is a force too strong to fathom. Violence and war are still a part of even our most progressive cultures. Weeds still grow alongside wheat.
Pointing to the glory that is to come is a nice thought, but what matters more in those moments of grief and pain is the presence of another human being, who’s #1 job is to just be. Skip the platitudes. Don’t share the pretty picture. Sit with those who are suffering and offer them a hug and a shoulder to cry on, and maybe silently say a prayer for the glory to come sooner rather than later.
O merciful Father, who has taught us in your holy Word that you do not willingly afflict or grieve your children: Look with pity upon the sorrows of those for whom our prayers are offered. Remember them, O Lord, in mercy, nourish their souls with patience, comfort them with a sense of your goodness, lit up your countenance upon them, and given them peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.