Our apologies that there is no audio recording for this week’s message. However, below you will find the text that Sarah used to preach her sermon this week, “Wild Beasts of Grief and Love.”
This year during Lent we’re playing around with the idea of wilderness. The gospels tell us that Jesus entered the wilderness, and while he was there he wrestled with temptation, and he was with the wild beasts, and angels tended him. This morning we’re talking about wild beasts, specifically, the wild beasts of love and grief. Love and grief are powerful and untamed. They come whether we call them or not.
Our text is a song of lament that David sang after the death of Saul and Jonathan. Saul was the first king of Israel, and Jonathan was his son. David and Jonathan loved each other deeply. This was an enormous loss for David personally, and for the whole nation.
As you listen to his song, listen for those wild beasts: David’s personal grief, the nation’s grief, and underneath it all, David’s love…
2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
After Saul’s death, when David had returned from defeating the Amalekites, he stayed in Ziklag two days… Then David sang this funeral song for Saul and his son Jonathan. David ordered everyone in Judah to learn the Song of the Bow. (In fact, it is written in the scroll from Jashar.)
Oh, no, Israel! Your prince lies dead on your heights. Look how the mighty warriors have fallen!
Don’t talk about it in Gath; don’t bring news of it to Ashkelon’s streets,
or else the Philistines’ daughters will rejoice; the daughters of the uncircumcised will celebrate.
You hills of Gilboa!
Let there be no dew or rain on you, and no fields yielding grain offerings.
Because it was there that the mighty warrior’s shield was defiled—
the shield of Saul!—never again anointed with oil.
Jonathan’s bow never wavered from the blood of the slain, from the gore of the warriors.
Never did Saul’s sword return empty.
Saul and Jonathan! So well loved, so dearly cherished!
In their lives and in their deaths they were never separated.
They were faster than eagles, stronger than lions!
Daughters of Israel, weep over Saul!
He dressed you in crimson with jewels; he decorated your clothes with gold jewelry.
Look how the mighty warriors have fallen in the midst of battle!
Jonathan lies dead on your heights.
I grieve for you, my brother Jonathan!
You were so dear to me! Your love was more amazing to me than the love of women.
Look how the mighty warriors have fallen! Look how the weapons of war have been destroyed!
—Common English Bible
Look how the mighty have fallen. Saul, their king, their first king and great hope, has just been killed in battle, along with Jonathan, the crown prince. There is no larger loss for a young nation. With the king dead, and the heir dead, this is an existential crisis. What will happen? Will they endure as a nation? No one knows.
It’s also a personal tragedy for David. Saul was like a father to David. David arrived at court as a young boy, and Saul was his surrogate father.He welcomed David, mentored him, taught him, offered him his daughter in marriage. But, Saul had his own demons, and he was also jealous of David, enraged by him, abused him, threatened him, and tried to kill him. Their relationship was… complicated. And now he is dead. Look how the mighty have fallen.
The country is facing a profound crisis, and at David is deeply, personally affected, as well.
So he sits down and grieves.
He doesn’t make arrangements. He doesn’t send word. He doesn’t begin to see to the details. He sits down, tears his clothes, gives himself over to grief in ways that feel natural to him. We don’t share David’s customs, and that’s fine. Nobody needs to tear their clothing, although you may. But can we give ourselves over to grief in ways that feel natural to us? Maybe in silence, or sleep, or sloth.
I hope that this is a place and a community where we can do that. When we are shattered at the immediate moment of loss, when a month has passed, eight months, three years, twelve years, twenty, let this be a place where we can tell the truth. My light has gone out. My soul is weary. Let this be a place and a people with whom you can weep.
And out into the world, too, let us be people with whom others can weep, who don’t rush to the quick fix or the arrangements, who are willing to sit and be still.
Because grief is sacred. And enormous. It’s a wild beast. It always catches up with us anyway. David wept. Jesus wept. Let’s be people who are soft enough and brave enough to grieve.
David is grieving not only for himself. He’s grieving for his whole nation. This is a social tragedy, too.
I think we have an even harder time just giving ourselves over to grief in national, social tragedies. We’re prone to respond with a cry for vengeance, or an examination of the root causes of violence, or a demand for justice, or silence if we’re scared that we’ll alienate and anger. We don’t just grieve. I am still heartbroken over Columbine. I am still heartbroken over Trayvon, and his mother. I am still heartbroken over all the women Harvey Weinstein called into his hotel room.
We move so quickly to positions and politics. And positions matter. If we want the violence to stop, positions matter. But do we ever sit like David, not planning our next campaign, just weeping?
Do we throw our hands up and raise our voices in grief? Do we fall silent and refuse to move on and just plumb the depths of grief? How much of our desire to move on to analysis or a position or a response is an evasion or denial of the depth of loss? Can a wound heal that is never truly acknowledged?
David doesn’t move to consolidate power. He doesn’t leap to vengeance. He doesn’t call for national unity. He sits down and weeps, until the nation weeps with him. Do we dare to be like David? Willing to grieve, willing to grieve until we are willing to pick up a cross.
This is the call of wilderness time. To grieve as deeply and honestly as we can. Grief is a wild beast of a thing. But there’s no way around it. We have to learn to live with this beast.
But it’s not the only beast in the wilderness. Grief is the offspring of love. Without love there is nothing to grieve, and David grieves deeply because he loved deeply.
He loved Saul in all the complexity, and even more he loved Jonathan. Jonathan was Saul’s son, and apparently, the greatest love of David’s life. From the first moment they met, they loved each other. As the years went on, and Saul became increasingly abusive and violent, Jonathan snuck around behind his father’s back to save David’s life. He and David would meet out in the wilderness time and again, proclaiming their profound love for each other.
And now Jonathan is dead. David’s beloved is gone.
David says it was a love for him that surpassed the love of women. And David loved women.
Were they lovers? We don’t know.
It might be tempting to say it doesn’t matter, but of course it matters. Who we touch and how matters immensely Whether we are gay, or straight, or queer, or reject all the labels entirely, whether we’re abstinent, celibate, dating around, hooking up, strictly monogamous, monogomish, polyamorous, or something else entirely, whether we’re faithful to promises we’ve made, or unfaithful, it matters, immensely who we touch and how.
Surely it mattered to David and Jonathan whether they touched each other and how.
If they were lovers, what joy that they found each other, in spite of, well, everything. If you have found deep, profound, soul-altering romantic, sexual love with someone, what joy that is. And what a gift when you can be open and honest about it.
David and Jonathan, if they were lovers, seem to have lived a somewhat secret life. David was married to multiple other women. There was a lot of sneaking around. There must have been pain in that, that this love that surpassed all others wasn’t named or seen.
If they were lovers, what a gift it is that the text didn’t leave it out. Generation after generation of story-teller and editor left it in. This was a love for the ages. No other love in the biblical text is so passionate and powerful. Maybe they were lovers. If they were, it’s a possibility to imagine with pride and delight.
Or maybe they weren’t. Maybe they were “just friends.” How much is lost in that “just.” How much is lost in our obsession with sexual relationships and pairing people off. Far too often we only acknowledge relationships as real and meaningful if they are either bounded by marriage or marked by sexual intimacy. We do not give friendship its due. And yet some of the greatest loves of our lives are friendships. Friendship can be as all-consuming as a love affair. For the life of me I can’t find this citation, but I swear Judy Blume wrote somewhere that best friends are true love.
Friendship is a congruity of heart and mind. It is voluntary. It is not regulated by the state or enforced by social norms. When we find someone who our heart recognizes, when we discover that kind of love that can endure through the rise and fall of romantic relationships, through children and infertility and singleness and divorce, through death and illness and disability and aging, through jobs and moves and unemployment and retirement, through addiction and sobriety, through triumphant success and withering failure, when we find friendship like that, it is one of the great loves of our lives. Friendship is chosen, where family is generally not. Friendship is freer than love defined and shaped by romance or sexual intimacy. Friendship is love—grown up, mature, powerful love. When we find a friend who we love as David loved Jonathan, we have the opportunity to see a face of God.
Here’s the image I’m left with this week: God as friend and lover. God who loves us, delights in us, wants us. Divinity that just can’t help itself, can’t stay away. And God in the face of our lovers and our friends, here, with us, in the flesh. And of course, seeing God incarnate in those around whom we love the best, opens us to so much pain. Because where we love deeply, we will hurt deeply. We love, knowing that there will be loss. This is the way of the divine, to love and be loved, to love in delight and joy, and in grief and pain. To love and hold nothing back, welcoming the wild beasts of love and grief as bearers of God.