Today, I had the honor of doing the funeral for Luke Foster Nagel. Luke passed from this life, into true life, after a little more than 40 hours of life. Anytime there is a tragic death, our words often fail us, we are overwhelmed with grief, loss, and confusion. Today, at the funeral, I shared the stories of two women in scripture that dealt with terrible loss and what we can learn from them.
First, Naomi. We read Naomi’s story in the book of Ruth. She was a widow, and her three sons died as well. She turns to her daughters in law, and tells them to return to their people, for she has nothing to offer them now. Two return, but Ruth stays with her. As Naomi and Ruth return to to Naomi’s home, this is what happens in Ruth 1:19-21:
19 So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” 20 She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
After this loss, she changed her name. In the Bible, your name isn’t just what you are called, it’s who you are. It deeply reflects who you are. Thus, quite often in scripture, when someone meets God, their name is changed (Abram to Abraham, Sari to Sarah, Saul to Paul, to name a few).
Here we see Naomi say, no longer call me Naomi. Call me Mara. Mara is the word for bitter. She is saying that all of her loss has changed her name.
Loss changes us. It shapes us. It is something that is so impactful. But don’t let it change your name. Don’t let it change who are you are at the core of your being. Don’t let it turn you. Don’t let it harden you. Don’t let it break you.
Yes, you will, you must, you should grieve. Yes. But don’t let it change your name.
Ok, how do we keep that happening?
The other story I think of is Mary in garden, on Easter morning. She knew Jesus, she loved Jesus, Jesus healed and saved her. And now she believes, not only has He been killed, but they have taken His body. And she’s weeping, and she’s broken. Listen to what happens in John 20: 11-17:
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary knew Jesus. So, the question is, why didn’t she recognize Him? Why didn’t she know that it was Jesus standing right there?
Scripture doesn’t say. But I’ve got a theory. Perhaps she couldn’t see Jesus because of the tears in her eyes. Perhaps she shouldn’t see Him because the grief was too much, the pain was too great, and the tears had disrupted her vision.
She knew Him. But she couldn’t see Him. It wasn’t until He called her name, that that she could see it was Him.
Don’t let the tears that you are crying hide the presence of the risen Jesus Christ from you. Today, He is here. He is with us. He has not left us, nor will He.
Listen for Him. Listen for Him calling your name. Listen for His voice in your grief. You are not alone. You will never be alone. He will never leave you. Listen. Listen. When you can’t see Him through the tears, listen for His voice.
He honors our tears and our pain and our loss. But, do not let the tears we cry keep us from seeing that the risen Christ is with us.
Today, don’t let grief change your name. And don’t let the tears you cry hide presence of the risen Christ in your midst, even now.