12 Pentecost, August 12
Trying to reclaim Jerusalem, David was in locked battle against the armies of his son Absalom, whose life he hoped to spare. “The king ordered Joab and Abishae and Ittae, saying, ‘Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom’” (2 Sam. 18:5). The bitter end is already known. Preemptive mercy in the midst of slaughter is an impossible hope. “Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, when the mule that was under him went on” (2 Sam. 18:9). It was war, so “ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him” (2 Sam. 18:15). While Absalom’s dead body hung in the forest of Ephraim, David continued to hope, and when hearing a report of the battle from the Cushite messenger, he asked the agonizing question, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” (2 Sam. 18:32)
To the Cushite, the death of an enemy was an unqualified and absolute good. “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man” (2 Sam. 18:32). But David, having lost his son, was like that young man, hung between heaven and earth in a thicket of stabbing wounds and bleeding grief. “The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “Oh my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Sam. 18:33). The loss was agonizing. Those who know it firsthand know it as the absolute end of life as it has been. “For vast as the sea is your ruin; who can heal you?” (Lam. 2:13).
The only way out of the valley of the shadow of death is to stay in it, to walk through it, to let time and providence cut and make whole. “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication!” (Ps. 130:1-2). “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope” (Ps. 130:5). David is “the poor soul who cried” (Ps. 34:6). His grief shows the sighs and groans that are the deep language of prayer (Rom. 8:26). Would that we all knew how to grieve as David did: openly, fully, in the delirium of loss and the confusion of all hope.
Go down to the depths where the cross of Christ is. Feel the dereliction of his crucified form suspended between heaven and earth. Feel hopelessness and confusion. Feel a lost and forlorn and lonely humanity. Feel yourself falling away. Who are you? What is a human life? What is the span of life? Is it worth it to be?
A person who has died in the sorrow of loss, who holds the death of a loved one as an end, will no longer see from a human perspective. Having died to the world and the world one had created, the only hope is resurrection. “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die” (John 6:50). “I will raise that person on the last day” (John 6:44). Being raised and being called to the table of life-giving bread will mean so very much to a person who is already dead.
My son, my son, my dearly beloved son.
Look It Up
Read Psalm 130:1.
Think About It
Vows promised this sorrow.