Because They Are No More
By Rev John T. Schwiebert, ThM
In a less than pleasant part of the story of Jesus birth and infancy we encounter the deep grief of parents whose infant boys were killed by King Herod in his frantic attempt to do away with the infant Jesus (Matthew 2:16-18). The grief of the mothers especially is recalled in a poignant verse from the book of Jeremiah that recalls an earlier bitter fruit of empire:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.” (Jeremiah 31:15)
Rachel is a helpful model for all of us when we suffer profound grief because of a personal loss. She cries bitter tears and laments as loudly as she needs to, without feeling that she has to contain her grief for the sake of those around her who might be uncomfortable with her raw suffering. And she refuses to be comforted, as well she should.
In fact when any one of us is grieving, attempts to comfort us are not that helpful if they involve trite observations designed to lessen our grief, and reduce our pain, e.g. “at least your husband died quickly without having to suffer prolonged pain,” or “it must be comforting to know that your mother has gone to be with Jesus.” Such observations, however well-meaning, can’t reduce the pain of grief because they cannot undo the loss.
With or without the help of friends, the only way to begin to navigate our way through the long process of grief is to face the devastation of the loss head on. Rachael refuses to be consoled after the loss of her children “because they are no more.” She needs nothing else to justify her grief, and neither do we. What has been will never be again and in the face of that truth, grief is inevitable, normal and necessary. To pretend otherwise in the hope of fending off the pain will only postpone the grief; it will not lessen it.
To say of those whom we have lost to death that “they are no more,” is not to deny the hope of resurrection, or life after loss, or the possibility of happiness to come after a season of deep sadness (see the promise that Jeremiah lifts up later in chapter 31, verse 17!). But to say “they are no more” is to accept that in the moment of loss, the pain is real, significant, and yes, even an occasion for bitter lament. And that is nothing to be ashamed of.