Monday near Oswego three teenagers were killed in a fatal car crash on Route 126.
In a moment, everything changed for them, everything changed for their families, and everything changed for the man driving the truck who survives. I have spent my life as a minister trying to muster up words of comfort in situations where there are no good words.
I officiated my first funeral back when I was 21-years-old; the service was for a 34-year-old mother of four who died of cancer one year after I met her. I have spent my life trying to reconcile who I know to be a God of Love with the pain and grief of a motherless 5-year-old and his sisters and brothers. Anything I have ever said that was helpful in accomplishing this is only a gift from God. Me? I never know what to say.
But let me be clear, I do know what not to say.
Do not say, “this was God’s will.” For all the traffic this phrase generates you would think it would have a central place in scripture. This phrase is often referenced as though random tragedy is divinely ordained, but no such example of God’s will exists in the life and teaching of Jesus...or in the entire New Testament for that matter.
So I can say with no reservation, it is never the will of God to kill three teenagers in car wreck. I do not assume my readers are Christians, but for those who are, please remember ours is a faith of resurrection. God has destroyed death as the final answer and is forever on the side of life and love - in fact, God IS life and love. And that love is stronger than anything else in this world.
Do not say, “this could have been avoided if...” Humans like me and like you make mistakes all the time. I admit, I have texted while I drive. I have sped beyond the speed limit. I have rubber-necked for the best gas price. And I have driven in and around the Chicago area long enough to know our roads are not populated by patient, slow, conscientious drivers. When accidents happen, we must own that the culture of hurry is every bit as much ‘us’ as it is ‘them’. It takes intrinsic humility to face something that could happen to any of us and recognize our own susceptibility to the mistake.
Do not say, “they deserved it because…” Many years ago I did a funeral for a man who died of AIDS. He was a member of our church in Texas, homeless, and inching closer to heaven by the minute during the three years I knew him - he was a kind, good-hearted, God-loving man. So yeah, everything in me wanted to punch the funeral home director who turned and said to me with a snarky tone before the service, “Well if he wasn’t a queer, we wouldn't be here today.” The few of us present knew that while it wasn’t that, we sure wouldn’t have cared if it had been. What I still wish I could have articulated to that funeral director is that I didn’t know the whole story of that man, and certainly neither did the funeral home director, but I loved my friend. There is no absolute truth apart from God, and we sure are not God.
When insurmountable loss hits, people need words of blessings, sympathy and compassion, not commentary, spite, or empty cliche. We have too much of that all around us. So if we utter anything, say something that articulates the spirit of “Peace of the Lord be with you,” or better yet, do something that demonstrates that sentiment. However you are comfortable doing that, do it! Hug, bless, send flowers, and make casseroles. Sit with and listen to your friends who grieve. And never forget that this is all in the hands of God and God alone now...including your response to it!
There are words I love to announce in times of tragedy as well as joy that the Apostle Paul penned to the persecuted Christians in Rome. I leave you with this blessing that speaks to the life of Brian Herrera, Tyler Montgomery, Alexis Banuelos and to every other person who ever lived whether they died at 8 or 88:
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:37-39
If you are looking for a place to begin your journey with God you are invited to Big Life Community Church on Father's Day, June 17th at 10:45 AM at Oswego East High School. Big Life is a new church forming in the Oswego area that begins weekly worship on 9/9. Check it out on the web at biglifecc.org