Today was the funeral for a beloved member of my parish in Idaho. Because I've been bouncing around due to college and my internship, I haven't had the greatest opportunity to sit down and get to know the people here.
From my time in Omaha and now here, it feels incredibly odd to be around those grieving when you're not racked by the same feelings. For me there's been a feeling of guilt; I feel guilty because I'm not suffering like everyone else and guilty that I'm present for a funeral even though I didn't know the man nearly as well as everyone else present.
There's a significant emotional distance between me and those grieving. I don't have wonderful stories to remember about the deceased. I can't share the pain of loss even though I can offer my ears and heart for listening. I can offer my prayers and sympathies but I can't take the pain away. If I were suffering like them then at least we could feel some kind of comfort in our shared pain, but even then there's nothing I can do to make the pain go away.
As I sat and thought about this, I realized why the idea of God becoming human in Christ was just so important. God, with a heart of perfect love, stands with creation, watching all sorts of pain and misery. God watches as death claims those we love, God watches as human beings destroy one another and creation itself, and God wants us to know that there is immense love for us burning within the divine heart.
But our pain, our grief, our suffering is tied to our mortality and our humanity. Might God have felt some guilt for being so close to us and yet so far away? I don't know, but God became human so that God could truly feel human pain. God had to become a mortal and limited human being to cross that emotional distance.
Our pain and suffering, then, are not a barrier to God's love and understanding. God, who knows and loves us more than any other could possibly love us, is fully present with us in the midst of our pain as someone who suffers with us.
And as for me, my own experience of grief and loss should enable me to be better present to those mourning the loss of their friend, husband and father today. I do not know what pain they are going through, but our union in the body of Christ and our shared humanity might just be enough to make present the immense love of God.