The dynamics of grief are changing.
The death on April 21 of Minnesota’s very own Prince, the dynamic international musical superstar, demonstrates that. In the first five hours after the announcement of his death, 25 million people had 61 million Facebook interactions related to his legacy. “Prince” became the top-trending term on Twitter worldwide shortly after his death was reported, with more than 6 million tweets paying tribute. Even President Obama tweeted his appreciation of Prince.*
The ever-expanding platform of social media means that expressions of grief are public and almost instantaneous. Because it is so easy to express a thought or share a feeling it seems that almost everyone does.
One the one hand, this is a welcome development. It is good to share in grief communally, to experience viscerally that we do not face death and loss alone; there others are on this journey with us. It is good that public expression of grief is not just for the rich and famous. Anyone who wants to participate can participate – and it can be healing to give voice to the deep emotions grief stirs within.
On the other hand, we exist in an age of information overload, or as some call it, information pollution. Just because we can post or tweet or share in some electronic fashion does not mean we should (e.g., “here’s a photo of what I ate for breakfast”). Some people jump on the social media bandwagon just to be part of a cultural moment. They write about the famous person who died but really they are writing about themselves. Internet content critic Leah Finnegan entitled a recent example “How Prince’s Death Is About Me.”
As followers of Jesus, we have the privilege of grieving in a unique way. We are not spared the heartache of loss that death brings but we have a great hope that comes from trusting in Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25). Jesus has conquered death, the last enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26). With good reason people hold up signs at football games that say John 3:16, because here is the basis for our hope: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
I appreciate what happens at a Christian funeral service. Early in the worship order, we celebrate the life of the deceased. We tell stories, we remember, we laugh, we cry. It is no different from what happens on social media when a famous person dies. Except for this: we grieve before the Lord. Our public expression of grief is in service of something deeper, our declaration of the goodness and mercy of God. For that is the culmination of the Christian funeral service, the celebration of God who gave the gift of life and who gives life eternal to all who turn to him in repentance and trust. So it is that we do not “grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
Let us use social media, and all our personal interactions, to share this comfort and hope. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Corinthians 2:3-4).
David Lenz, Lead Pastor
*http://www.reuters.com/article/us-people-prince-socialmedia-idUSKCN0XI2L0, accessed May 9, 2016