Back in my youth ministry days we gave Bibles to graduating Seniors and I often wrote on the inside cover a version of Joshua 1:7-9: “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all (God’s) law; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go…. I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua summons God’s courage and strength as he navigates a new landscape. These are good words for people moving into a new reality.
While planning a funeral the family asked me to select a Scripture that spoke of their beloved’s inner strength. Joshua 1:1-9 came to mind. Rereading the passage I was struck by Joshua’s blunt opening line “After the death of Moses, the servant of the Lord, the Lord spoke to Joshua, son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying, “My servant Moses is dead. Now proceed” At times life is blunt. “After the death of…” we face a new chapter. Did Joshua wonder if he could go on without Moses: Pharaoh’s Vanquisher, Red Sea Divider, Law Giver, Nation Builder, Tabernacle Constructor, and God’s Friend?
Proceed. How do we proceed when loss plunges us to into an uncertain future? God speaks, perhaps whispering, to Joshua, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.” Joshua now remembering the Exodus, the Sea Crossing, the Sinai Experience, Manna, the Cloud and Fire, and Moses’ humility commands the grieving uncertain people, “Be strong and courageous… Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to keep the law. … I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” How do we proceed after loss? We proceed because Almighty God goes before us. We proceed because Christ frees us. We proceed because the very Spirit intercedes for us. We proceed because our very grief reminds us that love, beauty and life are gifts from God. We mourn lost life because life is beautiful. We proceed because to do otherwise would diminish the life we now mourn. Let us proceed! Let us pour out our lamenting hearts with the Psalmist. Let us go and comfort each other as Jesus comforted Martha and Mary. Let us speak freely of our hurt as Jesus spoke to his friends in the garden. Let us wrestle all night with God as did Jacob. Let us withdraw in prayer as did Jesus. Let us arise from our prayers, shoulder our crosses, and walk with Jesus until that Day that God sets all things right. Let us be very strong and courageous. Proceed.