WorkingPreacher.org Commentary 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
David’s mourning cry at the death of Saul and Jonathan is raw and painful. As Christians, we are not well-schooled in lament.
In general, Christian culture focuses on the joy of the resurrection—the insistence of new life in the face of death—so much so that we may be reluctant to linger in grief. How do we share in grief together? What communal practices help us name and navigate the deep waters of lament? Our experience of pandemic, of violence against people of color, of mass casualties and loss, has revealed these gaps in our common life.
Loss Unless your congregation is especially biblically literate or you have already been teaching on the history of Israel, I invite you to focus this week on grief and its place in the life of faith. David “intoned his lamentation,” that is, he sang his loss out loud. He did not shy away from naming the loss in detail. David’s lament is an opportunity to pause and name our losses. Walk through each arena of life listed below, naming specific examples from your context and community. This list is not exhaustive, so add the arenas or topics that are key for your congregation. After each arena, pause to allow your audience to reflect in silence on examples from their own lives.
Loved ones First and foremost, we have lost loved ones. We felt helpless in the face of their illness. Many, too many, died alone, unaccompanied by family and friends who were not allowed into hospital rooms. Our grief is compounded by delayed funerals, by isolation in our loss, the absence of communal rituals to express and mark their passing. Their absence weighs heavily in our lives. Also, we have lost connection to loved ones. Because we could not visit, hug or stay in literal touch, some relationships have weakened. We keenly feel the increasing remoteness of friends, co-workers, family members. We have felt the loss of our support systems and social networks. Allow folks here to pause in silence to reflect on the loss of loved ones.
Economic losses The loss of jobs, wages, career advancement and retirement savings have hit many hard. Woven throughout David’s speech is the drumbeat “How the mighty have fallen.” King Saul and his son, Jonathan, were “the mighty,” the ones on whom God’s people depended for security and strength. Many of our sources of security and strength have crumbled for us this year. Livelihoods that provide both income and identity have fallen. Evictions have stripped away a sense of stability and security. Economic safety nets—unemployment payments and other benefits—have been overwhelmed by a sea of need and so these, too, “have fallen” as inadequate to secure our lives. Allow folks here to pause in silence to reflect on economic losses.
Daily life The security and strength we draw from routine patterns of life were stripped away over the past year. “Normal” was replaced by the unknown, confusion and lots of trial and error to find new daily patterns of life. This, in turn, affected our family relationships, the loss of family outings, trips and routines. More time at home together was certainly a great blessing. Yet many also felt the loss of ease with one another as close quarters led to heightened tensions. Our sense of “normal” was lost. Allow folks here to pause in silence to reflect on the loss of routines and normalcy.
Church community and rhythms We have missed one another in our common life as a congregation. We have lost time spent together in ministry—serving meals to the community, group studies, food pantry, youth and children’s ministries, choir—we have felt the loss of all these gathering and serving places. Our corporate worship has changed radically as well, going online. We miss being together and sharing life. We miss the smiles, the hugs, the community. Allow folks here to pause in silence to reflect on the loss of church life.
Racial reckoning We recognize the lack of progress toward racial justice as the depths of racism have been laid bare, again and again. The evidence of white supremacy and white privilege are undeniable in the face of bodies of color beaten and murdered. White notions of racial harmony seem now to be naïve or even self-indulgent. We lament the systems and structures that have preserved racism in insidious and powerful ways. We have much work to do. Allow folks here to pause in silence to reflect on fissures in racial justice.
Creation mourns, too Grief is so profound, so all-encompassing, David reminds us that even mountains and fields bear witness to it (verse 21). Death brings a new reality that shakes us to the core. How can the sun still rise when our loved one or our sense of normalcy is gone? These verses recognize that all creation, not only people, shares in this interruption of life. Allow folks here to pause in silence to reflect on ways that all of creation is in solidarity.
New life ahead Only after fully plumbing the depths of grief, can we also name another truth underlying this passage: new life will emerge. Saul’s death makes way for the next, new season in Israel’s life. This reality in no way lessens the loss. Yet it is important to squarely face the necessity of endings in order to have beginnings. Saul’s death opens the way for a time of turning for God’s people. A new, united kingdom will flourish under David and his dynasty. Allow folks here to pause in silence and identify the signs of new life emerging in their lives and in the world.
Take-home prayer Provide paper for folks to jot down their own personal words for each of the arenas of loss you identify in the sermon. Conclude with signs of new life ahead. Invite people to take this home to use throughout the week as a prayer of lament and hope.