By this time, you will have learned about the tragic death of Jackson Roberts, one of our own, in a motorcycle accident near Furman University earlier this weekend. Jackson was a strong young man, an able student, and a person of great character. The world is less for not having him in it.
A few of you have asked me to help you make sense of all this. (Many of your parents have asked the same.) I can’t. No one can. There is no sense in why this happened; there is no explanation. All that I can offer are a few reflections from someone who has been with other people as they walked the unimaginable road of losing someone who was close to them, especially for the first time:
First, the world that God designed did not have death in it, and it certainly did not include death for people standing on the threshold of their adult lives. Accidents are accidents. They are not acts of God, and they are not part of God’s plan; they just happen. Every time we step out of our front door, we expose ourselves to risk. Most times, things work out fine. More often than we want to believe, they don’t. We do not look for God in why accidents happen. Instead, we look for God in the way that he loves us, cares for us, and blesses us after an accident happens.
Second, prayer is a powerful thing. The Bible tells us that the Archangel Raphael carries our prayers to the throne room of God. Our prayers ring on the ears of God, they offer consolation to those for whom we pray, and they transform the heart of the one who prays. Prayer is power in the midst of powerlessness. Prayer is something we can do when there is nothing that can be done.
Third, we all need to stay connected with a community of faith. When I arrived at Jackson’s house on Saturday morning, the driveway was filled with friends scraping ice and the kitchen was filled with people bringing food; many were from church. In death, Jesus promises us that he will prepare a place for us in his father’s own house. In life, he promises us that we will never have to be alone. Many young people take a break from their church experience during their college years, and then come back to it when they are ready to settle down or establish their families. I encourage you to chart another course. By stitching yourselves into a community of faith when times are good, you make an investment in having a community to support you when times are bad. There are many ways that you can stay in touch with Holy Communion over distance: Come to services when you’re in town, keep in touch with your church friends (especially your clergy and your youth minister!), check out our active Facebook page, receive our weekly E-mail or monthly mailing, and sign-up for our Wednesday morning “robocall.” I would also be glad to help you find a great parish church in the community where you are currently living.
Fourth, be gentle with yourselves in the days and weeks ahead, and get help when you need it. Priests, counselors, and psychologists are all trained to talk with people at times like these, and it is our privilege to do so. You do not need to be alone in your grief. Feelings are facts; they are what they are, and we need to let them come. Also, please know that laughter and tears are very close in the spectrum of emotion, and that one often gives way to the other. Let that happen, and count the laughter as a blessing.
Fifth, for many of you, this is your first experience with tragic loss. The adults in your life all remember their first experiences with tragedy, just as you will always remember this. Experience does not make you any better at handling tragedy, it just gives you more confidence in knowing that God will continue to be faithful to us even in sorrow this deep. Ask the adults in your life how they are experiencing Jackson’s loss, and tell them how you feel; it will be a rich conversation.
I have gone on longer now than I intended, perhaps in the hope that using a great volume of words will help me find the right ones. It didn’t. The words do not exist that will help you make sense of this. What does exist is a loving God who has blessed us with each other in the midst of great loss. Where is God in all of this? I see him in you, and I hope that you can find a bit of his grace in the words I have written above.
I will let you know when Jackson’s funeral will be held as soon as I know. I hope that many of you will be able to come home for it, and I look forward to seeing you. Perhaps we can find a time to be together as a group when you are home. Hester, Benjamin, Randy, and I all love you all very much. Call us anytime.
Yours in faith,
The Reverend Alexander H. Webb II
Rector, Church of the Holy Communion