Tomorrow, the Fuller community will gather together to mourn. Over the Christmas break Ruth Vuong, Dean of Students, suddenly passed away.
There are many people on campus who knew Dean Vuong personally, and many who did not. Personally, I only had the privilege of meeting her on a couple of occasions. Yet even to someone who did not really know her personally, her loss is nearly tangible on campus, as the community collectively mourns. I do not need to have been in personal relationship with her to know how this feels. We all have experienced loss, haven’t we?
Loss and mourning are strange creatures, especially for Christians. At times, it seems wrong to be sad, to mourn, to feel the pain of loss over another Christian. After all, no matter the specifics of our theology of Heaven, we all basically understand that death isn’t the end, right? Don’t we know, somehow, that if she goes to heaven, and we go to heaven then that means we’ll be together again? Isn’t that what we believe? And if it is, then why are we sad? Afterall, haven’t we all heard the saying, “it’s not good bye, it’s see you later”? So why do we still mourn? Does it betray us, showing what little faith we actually have? Or is it something else?
This gets me to thinking about Lazarus; well more specifically about Jesus and Lazarus. Jesus stood at the tomb, knew what he was about to do, and how did he respond? He wept. Jesus wept knowing he was about to restore Lazarus.
I don’t think our mourning betrays our faith. We have lost years of opportunity for relationship with Ruth Vuong. Opportunities to create memories, to benefit from her wisdom, to have shared experiences, to get to know her. It is our loss, and it is right to acknowlege it. We are created for relationship and community, and a measure of it is taken from us when someone dies. Jesus knew this, and felt the very real pain of that loss before he restored Lazarus.
There is the paradox of the mourning Christian. We weep over a temporary loss, that in our finite understanding feels so eternal. But this is, in a sense, good. If we can mourn, despite our understanding of the afterlife, it reveals the value we have for relationship. And there, the God of relationship can and does minister to us.