June 27, 2021

Grieving our losses with David (2 Samuel 1:1, 17-end)

A sermon preached by the Revd Aaron Kennedy

2 Samuel 1.1,17-27; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 8.7-15; Mark 5.21-43

It’s a classic trope of male-bonding and war literature.

The hero of the story suffers the loss of either a compatriot or a mentor.

Luke Skywalker loses Obi-Wan to his self-sacrifice on the Death Star;

Maverick holds Goose in a Pietà pose in the ocean

after his wingman (in both the battlefield and the night club) dies in training;

the Avengers finally set their squabbles aside

and band together after Loki kills Agent Phil Coulson.

In our old testament reading, David loses both a mentor and a friend,

even if their relationship had become complicated.

Like the mourning of Luke, Maverick, and the Avengers,

David recalls only the best details

about his friendship with both Saul and Jonathan

in his song commemorating their deeds.

Likewise, the memory of the fallen

propels the hero to even greater achievements

as their story continues.


The song does not encompass David’s entire emotional outburst, though.

After hearing of the details of Saul’s and Jonathan’s death

at the hands of the Amalekite messenger,

David rips his clothes and begins to weep and fast

for all of the fallen soldiers of Israel (2 Samuel 1:12).

He also confronts the Amalekite,

who followed Saul’s own orders to end his misery (v. 9).

David interrogates,

“Were you not afraid to lift your hand

to destroy the LORD’s anointed?” (v. 14)

David then orders his men to kill the messenger for this offence.


These details from the intervening story

which the lectionary omits

are quite important to the interpretation of this passage.

They foreshadow David’s future reign

(the messenger also brought back Saul’s crown and armlet to give to David in v.10)

and flashback to David’s actions and relationships

with the two deceased rivals.

In 1 Samuel 24, David had a chance to kill Saul himself.

Instead, he cut a piece of Saul’s cloak, saying

“The LORD forbid that I should do anything to my lord,

the LORD’s anointed … for he is the LORD’s anointed” (1 Samuel 24:6).

When David and his men have a second chance to kill Saul,

David almost prophesies Saul’s demise

saying that God will strike him down,

he will die of natural causes,

or he will die in battle (1 Samuel 26:10).

Instead, he exclaims,

“The LORD forbid that I should raise my hand

against the LORD’s anointed” (1 Samuel 26:11).

These two chances to kill Saul solidify David’s constant service to his prior master,

even though they lived much of their lives at odds.


In addition to his kingly mentor, David loses his best friend, Jonathan.

And David expresses beautifully his appreciation

for Jonathan’s brotherly companionship

through very trying times

despite the fact that their friendship causes Jonathan to defy Saul,

whose desire to kill David drives him mad.

David’s mourning cry at the death of Saul and Jonathan is raw and painful.


As Christians, we are not well-schooled in lament.

In general, Christian culture focuses on the joy of the resurrection

—the insistence of new life in the face of death—

so much so that we may be reluctant to linger in grief.


How do we share in grief together?

What communal practices help us name and navigate the deep waters of lament?

Our experience of the pandemic,

of violence against black and minority ethnic people,

climate change and habitat loss

has revealed these gaps in our common life.


David “intoned his lamentation,” that is, he sang his loss out loud.

He did not shy away from naming the loss in detail.

David’s lament is an opportunity to pause and name our losses.

As we move through some of these areas now,

I will pause for a moment of silent reflection after each one.

I invite you make a note in your own words

of the griefs and losses you have been experienced,

perhaps without even knowing it.


First and foremost, we have lost loved ones,

to COVID, but also for an array of other reasons.

We felt helpless in the face of their illness.

Many, too many, died alone,

unaccompanied by family and friends

who were not allowed into hospital rooms.

Our grief is compounded by delayed funerals,

by isolation in our loss,

the absence of communal rituals to express and mark their passing.

Their absence weighs heavily in our lives.

Also, we have lost connection to loved ones.

Because we could not visit, hug or stay in literal touch,

some relationships have weakened.

We keenly feel the increasing remoteness of friends, co-workers, family members.

We have felt the loss of our support systems and social networks.




The loss of jobs, wages, career advancement and retirement savings

have hit many hard.

Woven throughout David’s speech is the drumbeat

“How the mighty have fallen.”

King Saul and his son, Jonathan, were “the mighty,”

the ones on whom God’s people depended for security and strength.

Many of our sources of security and strength have crumbled for us this year.

Livelihoods that provide both income and identity have fallen.

Evictions have stripped away a sense of stability and security.

Economic safety nets—unemployment payments and other benefits—

have been overwhelmed by a sea of need

and so these, too, “have fallen”

as inadequate to secure our lives.




The security and strength we draw

from routine patterns of life were stripped away over the past year.

“Normal” was replaced by the unknown, confusion

and lots of trial and error to find new daily patterns of life.

This, in turn, affected our family relationships,

the loss of family outings, trips and routines.

Many of us had more time at home together

and that was certainly a great blessing.

Yet many also felt the loss of ease with one another

as close quarters led to heightened tensions.

Our sense of “normal” was lost.




We have missed one another in our common life as a congregation.

We have lost time spent together in ministry

—parish lunches, home groups,

not being able to work with Glassdoor,

junior church and choir

—we have felt the loss of all these gathering and serving places.

Our corporate worship has changed radically as well, going online.

We have missed being together and sharing life.

We missed the smiles, the hugs, the community.




We recognize the lack of progress toward racial justice

as the depths of racism have been laid bare, again and again.

We lament the systems and structures that have preserved racism

in insidious and powerful ways, both here and in America.

We have much work to do.




Grief is so profound, so all-encompassing,

David reminds us that even mountains and fields bear witness to it (verse 21).

Death brings a new reality that shakes us to the core.

How can the sun still rise when our loved one

or our sense of normality is gone?

These verses recognize that all creation, not only people,

shares in this interruption of life.

Indeed we saw natural habitats revive during the pandemic,

and carbon emissions drop,

only for these gains to be lost in more recent months,

and a sense of hopelessness setting in for many.




Only after fully plumbing the depths of grief,

can we also name another truth underlying this passage:

new life will emerge.

Saul’s death makes way for the next, new season in Israel’s life.

This reality in no way lessens the loss.

Yet it is important to squarely face the necessity of endings

in order to have beginnings.

Saul’s death opens the way for a time of turning for God’s people.

A new, united kingdom will flourish under David and his dynasty.

And in our own lives,

in the midst of our grief and loss,

Christ is again making all things new.


Take time now in a moment or two of silence,

to note with thankfulness

the signs of new life that are emerging for you

now and in the future.


I invite you to take your notes home with you today,

and use it throughout the week

as a prayer of lament and hope.





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