It was the typical Sunday morning. You know, getting the kids dressed, hair done, teeth brushed, some semblance of breakfast, get in the car, tell the kids to not touch each other or talk to each other, and answer as I do every Sunday morning, “No, son, I do not know what we are having for lunch at 9:45 in the morning.”
Deep breath, check lipstick in car mirror, and begin to worry if I am wearing enough layers not to freeze in the 200+ year old sanctuary where we worship. “I should have worn socks,” I think to myself, “My feet are cold already.”
Yes. Such profound theological thoughts bounce around in my head on the way to church most Sundays.
Park the car, herd kids into the church, speak to friends, casually ask about their families, admire the babies and cute little girls in their Sunday best, and walk into Sunday School. Late. Again.
That’s OK, we only missed fellowship time, I think. We should be in time for the speaker.
Stopped by Grief
What I witnessed when I stepped through the door stopped me cold. Close to a hundred people were gathered around a sweet sister and faithful servant of Christ in prayer.
Something was wrong, terribly wrong.
The usual hurriedness of my morning fell away and fear rose in my chest.
Forming a human hedge of protection against whatever was threatening, our church family circled around her and her husband, embracing them, hands gently laid on their shoulders, faces bowed before our God in urgent prayer. Others knelt, and those too far away to touch her reached out and laid a hand on the person in front of them connecting all in one love, one spirit, one mind, and one faith on behalf of this precious sister. Many cried aloud, others quietly wiped away tears of love. Those who could form words prayed aloud humbly asking the God who authors life to spare hers from the cancer that threatened to take her from us, from her husband, and from her children.
The grief in the room was palpable.
Glory in the Grief
But so was the glory—glory that is always larger than the grief of man. Isaiah 61 tells us the righteous who grieve are comforted “for the display of his splendor.” Earnest cries of grief reached the realm of heaven and ushered in the glorious splendor, comforting the people of God.
I stood by the door and didn’t move, trying to memorize every detail of the scene unfolding in front of me. I worried that if I moved or knelt or even closed my eyes, I would somehow disturb the glory that hovered over the body of Christ at work.
My eyes were drawn to her face. Amid the crowd who had bowed their heads in reverent fear, grief and love, she stood tall among them in the center, the only one with her face lifted upward, peaceful and radiant in a way that is difficult to describe. The Spirit, “the lifter of my head,” lifted hers from a state of worry and fear and gently tilted her face toward her Savior.
God’s glory was present. I wonder if others sensed it. We do not see glimpses of holiness every day, and God made his presence known this morning. In our great grief, he displayed his great glory. For a moment, he turned mourning to joy, despair into praise, and fear into peace. I’ve never seen anything more beautiful, and I walked away changed by the experience. That’s what the glory of God does.
God sometimes allows his glory to break through the darkness of our lives. We most often see it in the lives of those who are struggling, as I did in my sister’s this morning. It is something rare and precious, a true privilege to witness. Those glimpses are a sweet assurance of the love of God and make us long for the day the prophet Habakkuk spoke of, when that same glory covers the earth, and darkness is no more.
We do not know what the days ahead hold for her and her sweet family. We are not promised a trouble free life. I am sure she will wrestle with doubt, anger and fear many times as she walks this path, but there was none of that in that moment. She was secure, steadfast, and sure. My sister could have tried to brave this trial in her own strength, but she chose to wrap herself up in the body of Christ, and in the process, allowed us to experience the gospel of peace that comes in the display of his splendor and God was glorified.
“But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.” Psalm 3:3
Karon Williamson attends First Presbyterian Church of Augusta, Georgia where she enjoys teaching women’s Bible studies and serving as a member of the Women’s Advisory Council. She is pursuing a Masters of Theological Studies degree at Covenant Theological Seminary. Her greatest joy is experiencing the glory of God in the life of her family, in the fellowship of the body of believers, and in community with her sisters in Christ. Wife to Don and mother of five, Karon enjoys writing, art, gardening, and historic preservation.