I did a funeral today for a woman who was a member of our church but hadn’t been in a number of years because she was a shut-in. Her daughter asked me to focus my funeral homily on talking about why it’s okay to mourn. So the text that came to mind was Psalm 42, because it says, “My tears have been my food.” Can tears be food? That is the question of mourning. My homily is below.
My tears have been my food day and night while people say to me constantly, “Where is your God?” It’s a poetic expression. Tears can’t be food. It’s supposed to be ironic. When you’re really sad, you don’t feel like eating so you cry instead. That’s the point. Or is it? Can tears really be food? When people we love pass away, the cruelty of their death echoes in the silence they leave behind, like taunting voices that mock us, saying, “Where is your God?” Does crying someone nourish us when we sit and listen to this bitter silence?
Death is part of every life; it always happens. So does that mean that we should somehow come to our senses, accept reality, and stop crying when the people we love die? When people are grieving, it’s hard to know what to say to comfort them. We often hope that the right words can solve any problem. So we try to make the best of things by saying something like, “She did live a nice, long full life,” which doesn’t make it any different that she’s gone.
Often the best words to offer someone who is grieving, if we must speak at all, are words that show how utterly useless they are. If you feel like you don’t know what to say, that’s good; embrace the fact that you don’t. It is more important to sit for a long time than to speak. The Bible tells a story of a man named Job who lost everything, all of his wealth and all of his children. When his friends came to visit him and comfort him, they sat on the ground next to him for seven days without speaking.
It’s socially awkward to sit in silence together. Can you imagine doing that for seven days? But when you’ve lost someone you love, the pain lasts for a lot longer than seven days. The worst part is about a month in, when everyone else’s lives seem like they’ve gotten back to normal. It’s at that point when it’s most important to have a friend who’s willing to come and sit for a long time without needing to be chatty or helpful, when you’re sitting in the dark with its echoes of pain and loss.
And yet, somehow the darkness doesn’t get the last word. The tears are our food. We remember the twinkle in her eyes, her fierce loyalty to her family, her dedication to her ministries and causes. These things we remember as we pour out our souls: moments when she changed our lives that somehow still exist because they still make us cry. Our tears are our food because they prove to us that love never dies. Tears prove to us that something eternal has happened.
The psalmist says in the midst of his grief: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” This is different than somebody else telling you that you’ll be fine or offering false words of comfort to make themselves comfortable with your grief. Hope is not about coming to your senses and just accepting reality. Hope is refusing to accept the finality of what reality seems to be.
We hope not because it makes sense to hope; we hope because we must. And our tears throw fire on that hope and make it grow. They are the evidence that we are not just a collection of chemical reactions; we were created to spend eternity together. If we did not have a higher purpose or destiny than to survive the best we can on this planet in the limited time that we have, then the people who cry would have been weeded out of our species. But we are more than just people who hunt for food, reproduce, and search for things that give us pleasure. Our grief shows us that we need eternal communion; we need a place where we can be together with those we love forever.
It is the aching that we feel and the eternal reality of our love that dares us to shake our fists at the cruel silence and say, We will see her again. It is our tears that show us how strong our love is. It is our tears that feed us hope. It is our tears that fill us with the resolve that nothing has been lost because the one we love is with the one who made us, and when we are together again, it will be forever.