I’ve been to more funerals than I have weddings, and I’ve lost more than I’ve gained, but in the end that’s generally how it winds up. The first funeral I ever attended was for a baby, a being hardly a year old if even close. I’ve never forgotten the sight of a mother holding her cold child in her arms, unable to warm its body, and never to hear it cry or wipe its tears away. I’ve never been able to be rid of the image, and I never hope to. The memory reminds me how small I am, and how fragile my life is, what faithfulness truly is. I’d rather be surrounded by broken things, because at least then I know I’ll never forget where I stand and that giving up is as good as never trying.
Two years ago I was promised hope, I was promised weddings instead of funerals. I had adjusted to presuming funerals however, so it took me nearly a year to accept any unwavering hope, any faithfulness of He who promised. It took me a year to believe in weddings, yet it took me two years to have faith and hope for weddings while also living as a funeral. For you see, in my expecting weddings, I came too close to demanding weddings. My hope turned into possession, which pushed me to a want for control. I am not a controlling person in any means, but I was a slow and rough learner of grace.
Nineveh, that damned city, was saved entirely without due, without a deserved or even promised purpose. It was saved by grace. Jonah, even less than Nineveh it seems, withdrew from seeking any good purpose, rather only desired to control and be blessed by what he handled himself. It’s not entirely clear what he desired to handle until the end, however. For as Jonah sat in the desert awaiting the destruction of Nineveh which never came, God appointed a plant to come up over him, that it might be a shade over his head. This made Jonah exceedingly glad. But, when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm to attack the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” And the Lord said to him, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor make grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. Should I not pity Nineveh then, where there are many who do not know their right from their left, and also much cattle?” (2). Whether Jonah answered or not is never given, but we can see now what Jonah desired, for he desired grace. Yet, even more so, he desired grace in which he controlled, in which he handled and brought about. He desired to be that plant’s guardian, god even, to be blessed by it, to ravish in its shade, the plant to never wither away as long as he lied below it. Simply, he desired hope he expected, which, by his own assurance, would remain.
What Jonah missed though, what I missed, is that grace is just as it is, it is grace; it is free like the wind, to dance through the hair and flutter about the face; it is as a soft breath upon the earth, brushing through our souls.
Grace, in all its mysterious and glorious beauty, is as much the undesired funeral clothes, as it is the laced dress of a bride.
Lewis haunts me as always, with his words, “The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just that time when God can’t give it: you are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear” (4).
Jonah could not bring about a plant from the ground or even the destruction of Nineveh, and I cannot bring about weddings, even promised ones, because it is not our place to. We cannot sacrifice in the right order, pray in the right manner, or serve the right path to attain grace. All we can do, is to live by it, and have faith in He who promised, have faith that grace will blow upon us as a gentle breeze in the due time of fulfillment.
I could never apologize enough for my mistakes and errors, for apologies do not buy grace. Sometimes, I will not bother again, means I give it over to grace, to let the wind hit me instead of hitting the wind, to await the hand I cry for, rather than capsizing the ship. No period is given where grace fills in. As the man dies to make the soil, so wheat lives to fill his remains; the crows are fed by the cycle of mercy. All continues, birth to death, death to birth, beneath the kingship of life we live.
We are free as the wind and the crow, yet only by dying to our own freedom. As the people are rebellious, so the mouth of Ezekiel is shut. As God alone must bring rebuke, so the mouth of Ezekiel is shut. For seven years no voice but God’s voice is given by the tongue of Ezekiel; he must live by the freedom of God’s voice and not his own. If we are to desire grace, to follow grace, then we desire and follow something which does as it pleases, that’s free entirely from us.
Grace, while it’s our greatest desire, is also the voice of our greatest fears. Where Jonah failed, Ezekiel leapt entirely to. For, in the fifth year of the man’s silence, God came to him and said, “Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you will not mourn or weep, nor tears run down your face, for you will only have silent sighs, and an empty mouth.” So he spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening his wife was dead. Thus, on the next morning he did as he was commanded (6).
Jonah demanded grace, and moaned when it was taken from him. Israel moans still. Ezekiel died to grace, and when it was taken from him, died some more — so that they would know that He is the Lord God. The real danger of the Christian faith is not that God won’t be there in the end, we are promised and assured that by the faithfulness of the cross; the real danger is whether we’ll like what lies between now and then, whether we’ll still want to be there. As Lewis nakedly wrote, “The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer’” (4).
It’s far too easy to hate God when grace seems to no longer resides on us. But, aren’t we told He is gentle and lowly, and brings rest with an easy and light burden. We are even told, blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn (7), so blessed are those who drop their fists and fall to the dirt.
I’d much rather be able to wrestle grace to the ground like Jacob, but instead I am wrestled to the ground by grace. I’d much rather be like Jonah, but even Jonah eventually had to fall to the mercy of grace as well. Ezekiel loses his wife, regardless of grace’s hand in it, he still enunciates his claim for retribution and falls in mercy.
We are to live in our casket’s wrappings, faithful that they will be our wedding tux.
Who God is, is of the utmost importance, but even God’s character is entirely by grace. We have to be willing to kneel for mercy, to set our hearts at mercy’s feet, and stand below who God is to live under the mere state of grace. We’re told that He is good and faithful, that His love is abounding; our claim is below that, not above. We are the man as though dead before the presence of His creator. We are the child, naked before the parent. We cannot demand God do or be anything He is not, but we are promised, and we must lie below that promise.
I’ve been to more funerals than I have weddings, and I’ve been promised the opposite, even if only for once, but I have no claim over any of that more than I do my own death. I must simply await for mercy to faithfully clothe me with such grace. The child doesn’t cry when its parent stands faithfully beside them, the child walks in the faith of who the parent is. We might be sorrowful in the presence of our tombs, but if the certainty of our tombs are promised by the same who promised our weddings, then we do not have to fear their infidelity. Grace is our assured promise, and we must learn to fall at its mercy if any peace should ever befall us.
While the eventide of our passing always stands beside, we are assured to our knees that the grace of dawn’s beautiful communion shall commence a glorious union. Though we mourn now, we will be comforted with the hope of a graceful kiss.
- Pieta, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889
- Jonah 4
- Woman with a Parasol (Madame Monet and Her Son), Claude Monet, 1875
- A Grief Observed, C. S. Lewis, 1961
- Wheatfield with Crows, Vincent Van Gogh, 1890
- Ezekiel 24
- Matthew 5:1-12
- Mother and Child on the Beach, Joaquin Sorolla, 1908