Toorak Uniting Church

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"Saying goodbye"

2 Samuel 1: 1, 17 – 27
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
9am, 2 July 2006

Earlier this week I said goodbye to a special friend whom I will, most probably, not see for a long time. It is hard to say goodbye like that and most of us will be familiar with the feeling.

Two weeks ago, when we picked up Arend from Clunes there were also a lot of deep felt goodbyes happening, especially the girls seemed to cling to each other till the last moment and some of them were crying and carrying on as if they would not all be going back to Melbourne and end up a phone call away from each other. More than missing each other I think that was probably about saying goodbye to a intense experience and special time they had all shared. And we probably all know that feeling too: A wonderful holiday draws to and end, a time at school, a job, a move, and there we are, saying our goodbyes and grieving the good times (and sometimes even the not so good times) we may have had.

When else do we say goodbye? There are many occasions, big and small when things draw to an end, when friends or family go away for one reason or another, when life just moves on and we move with it, into another space or phase. But it doesn’t have to be people, or times in our lives, it can be ideas, or dreams, that will clash at some point with reality where we discover that things will not be the way we hoped or expected them to be or where we discover that there are simply not the resources or opportunities to make something happen we so very much longed for. And it can be as hard to say goodbye to those dreams and desires as it can be to say goodbye to a person.

Endings, big or small, are part of all of our lives and we learn to cope with them from the day we are born and leave the warm safety of our mother’s womb. From the first time our mother leaves us in our crib, from the first day we are left at kindergarten, from the moment we have to miss somebody for a shorter or longer time, from the day we realise that something we wanted and looked forward to is not going to happen, we encounter loss in our lives, and grief for what is not there.

Some of that is just part of growing up, of being human, of the ever changing landscapes of life, and some of it is heartbreakingly difficult to cope and come to terms with.
For instance when somebody dies we loved, when we have to say goodbye forever, knowing things won’t ever be the same again.

It is that kind of loss that David encounters in 2 Samuel 1.

Saul and Jonathan have died in battle, somewhere on the hills of Gilboa. David, who has been involved in other skirmishes receives the news. The King is dead and Israel waits how David, the next King will respond.

David’s grief is profound and the way he deals with it moving and a model for others. There is both a public, corporate aspect to his grief as well as a more personal one.
He composes a song, a very sad song that sings about the great courage and strength of both Saul and Jonathan and curses the day and the place where they died. He remembers them both as great men greatly to be admired by everyone.

That was by no means self evident. Saul had made life very difficult for David and was seeking to kill him. David’s grieving and honouring of Saul evidence of his greatness and the sadness the difficult relationship with Saul has caused him. It paves the way for reconciliation and restoration of relationships in a community that until Saul’s death had been divided in allegiances to David or Saul.
It is a political move opening the way for renewed unity and forgiveness of past ills. David mourns Saul who had been hunting him like an enemy and honours his bravery and strength. There is a depth to the grief that is given words in the lament David composes that suggests there is more than that. It is not just a political move to manoeuvre himself in a better position to take over, there is also the genuine grief for a man who was once his friend, whom he had revered as king, who was his father in law and whom he had loved as the father of his very best friend.
All of that is there in the beautiful words David composes about Saul before he moves on to Jonathan and becomes far more personal.

The words about Jonathan are some of the deepest and most beautiful words of mourning around. In those words David addresses Jonathan directly, with a love and sincerity that is very moving. David shows his vulnerability, his deep hurt to all the people of Israel and calls them to grieve with him. David speaks from the heart, and expresses powerful emotions through words that will ring true through the ages.

There has been a time when boys were told not to cry and men were supposed to keep a "stiff upper lip" and even women were told to "pull themselves together". Fortunately those times are mostly gone and we are once again allowed to grieve and share that grieving with others, to find words and give shape to our feelings through poetry, music and art, or whatever way we feel may be helpful to express what we feel: That goodbye is not always easy and sometimes plain difficult. Sharing and expressing those feelings allows others to be with us, and share with us what is important and deeply felt in our lives.

David shares his grief, he writes a beautiful song about it, a gift to the people around him to be part of what affects him so deeply and give shape to their own feelings of loss and bereavement.

An example we follow I think in the Church whenever we conduct a funeral and we use new and ancient words to share our pain and grief, but also when we try to stand by friends as they go through difficult times and face loss in their lives in whatever shape or form. We do it in prayer, when we name our sadness and our gratitude and bring them before God. And when we share bread and wine like we are doing this morning and wish each other peace we also, without necessarily giving name to it, make ourselves available for each other as people who want to share and want to be part of a community that shares and seeks to be close and supportive to one another.
Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2006


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