Rob’s face held no secrets. His last six days had been sleepless, full of pain and suffering, tears and anguish and it showed. His brother, just 34 years old, lay in a linen-draped casket just an arm’s reach away. What must have been going through Rob’s mind? Perhaps visions of the two of them as little boys; playing cowboys and Indians, street football or revealing their dreams of becoming an astronaut or fighter pilot? The amount of pain and suffering he was going through must have been extraordinary. I wiped a tear and struggled for something to say, to do. What could possibly offer Rob and his family comfort at a time like this? And then, as Rob caught my eye–he began to sing.
“Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!”
And when the assembled 400+ voices joined them, I had my answer. The pain and agony of loss was palpable yet the familiar words of Henry Van Dyke, sung by a church filled with friends, family, teammates, coworkers and neighbors, offered familiar comfort.
“All Thy works with joy surround Thee, earth and heaven reflect Thy rays,
Stars and angels sing around Thee, center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea,
Singing bird and flowing fountain call us to rejoice in Thee.”
We know that Rob’s brother had moved on to a heavenly realm where there is no pain, no suffering, only joy, love and knowledge. Yet our presence also offered an immediacy of love and support. “Lean on me, ask me for help, call me late at night when you need a friend, I’m here for you.” Who in our church would deny Rob such a request? When you sign up for Christianity, you make a promise to the Father, the people you love and people you don’t even know. You’ve got to immerse yourself in its love, not dangle a toe, but jump right in.
“Thou art giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blessed,
Wellspring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest!
Thou our Father, Christ our Brother, all who live in love are Thine;
Teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine.”
A writer friend of mine recently wrote that Christianity should be worn like underwear, “best worn inside rather than out.” I agree. One shouldn’t blurt out their beliefs on every street corner, otherwise you’re liable to do more harm than good. Instead of flaunting your faith, pull up your pants up and let your faith show in works, friendship and kindness. Yet in that church, on that afternoon, our underwear was definitely showing.
“Mortals, join the mighty chorus, which the morning stars began;
love divine is reigning o’er us, binding all within its span.
Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strife;
joyful music leads us sunward, in the triumph song of life.”
Is there a “better” time to lose a family member? Hardly. Yet having to face the infectious joy of Christmas and its focus on togetherness, family and loved ones, coupled with an anniversary as painful as losing a brother would truly be gut-wrenching. We’re here for you Rob.
Post Script. In 1907, Henry Van Dyke set those words to the flowing, magical notes of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy and titled it: Joyful, Joyful We adore Thee