What Do You Say When a 15-Year Old Dies?

images-5Jordy died tragically at a Young Life camp. It was an unfortunate accident at the end of what should have been an unforgettable and wonderful time. It was unforgettable, anyway.

I witnessed the buses roll into the high school parking lot. They were less like buses returning from camp and more like funeral hearses. Kids should have poured out of the buses like penguins sliding down a snowbank, playful and giddy. Instead, they emerged puffy-eyed and heartbroken.

The kids were sad. The camp counselors were sadder yet. They had been through an emotional blender, making it difficult to comfort while they themselves were in shock.

Fast-forward to the funeral later that week.

The crowd gathered under a large tree where Jordy’s bod would be buried. His mother and family were surrounded by their pastor and church. They had all come to declare their faith in God and their comfort in the victory He provides.

As a pastor, I can’t help but feel for my counterparts conducting such services. I know the weight of them. My heart goes out to everyone who performs weddings, funerals, and other sacred services.

This service was different because it was primarily in spanish. A young man translated so the large crowd of white folks and non-spanish speaking latinos could understand it.

What struck me was what the pastor didn’t say.

He didn’t try to explain the tragedy.
He didn’t try to defend God.
There was no hint of apology or addressing of the Why? question.

He just preached the Word, declared God’s compassion, and stood in faith.
They were not there to demand answers, but to declare allegiance to their God.

It was a simple message, which happily I could mostly understand.
It was fresh and powerful, cutting through the sadness with a call to faith and trust in a God who is faithful.

The folks broke into song now and then. There were no instruments, no lyrics, and certainly no slide shows. The few sang and the many listened or hummed along. Soon, they committed Jordy’s body to the ground.

Then Jordy’s mom spoke.
It was amazing. Her gratitude for the outpouring of love she had received flowed freely.
Her love for the gathered body and for her son and for their God was palpable.
And her challenge to trust in Jesus was amazing.

I hadn’t wanted to go that morning. Now I didn’t want to leave.

The love and heartbreak of the young people who knew Jordy was undeniable.

That morning, I stood on holy ground. We all did.

*You learn more at a funeral than at a feast—
After all, that’s where we’ll end up. We might discover something from it.
Crying is better than laughing.
It blotches the face but it scours the heart.*

I learned that God is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

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