I have no idea why it sticks in my mind. I suspect that I heard my Dad use the verse in a sermon decades ago. But here I am - many years later - ruminating on something buried deep within.
As the Bible story unfolds, the sons of Jacob are about to return to Egypt a second time. The famine has continued and they are desperate for food. After their first visit, Joseph (still unknown to them at this point) has told them that they are not allowed to return without Benjamin, Jacob's youngest son. Partly because he has already lost Joseph, Jacob refuses to let Benjamin go.
For a while, that decision stands. Finally, however, the need for food is so desperate that Jacob gives halting permission for Benjamin to accompany his brothers on their next trip to get food in Egypt.
And here's the verse that sticks in my mind. Watching Benjamin go, Jacob says, "As for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved" (Genesis 43;14).
I would love to tell you that I vividly remember my Dad's sermon, but that wouldn't be true. All I remember is that verse. And even today, that verse causes me to have a visceral, gut-wrenching reaction.
To be bereaved is to be broken-hearted with grief, to be crushed with loss, to carry a load that is far too heavy to bear. Jacob is resigned to his possible bereavement. He obviously hopes that all of his sons (including Benjamin) will return safely, but he knows that other outcomes are possible, perhaps even likely. So he says with deep emotion: "If I am bereaved, I am bereaved."
The scene reminds me of King David's grief over the death of Absalom. Declaring himself to be David's enemy, Absalom is killed in battle (when his long, beautiful hair becomes tangled in a tree!). While we might expect David to be pleased that his upstart son has been destroyed, David instead grieves deeply. He is bereaved. And he cries out:
"O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom!
If only I had died instead of you - O Absalom, my son, my son!"
(2 Samuel 18:33)
David could easily quote Jacob's words from an earlier day: "As for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved."
It is not only the loss of life that can lead us to bereavement.
This very day, I am grieving the losses that are piling up in the lives of people I love dearly. I keep hearing on television about the future losses that will affect people in the days to come. But let's tell the truth: the losses are happening right now.
I have a friend who is a master musician. He shaped and fashioned a choral music community . . . that has simply ceased to exist. The gifted musicians that he worked with have no way to use their gifts and no way to survive financially.
I have a friend who is a gifted actor. She has trained for years to share her gifts . . . which are simply not needed right now. It was announced this week that shows on Broadway will be dark at least until September. And all the "little Broadways" around the country are just as dark. And will be dark for some time.
I have a friend who is losing her business. Everything looked so promising a few months ago, but today there is no way to keep things going. It is not simply that things are "shut down." More to the point, the world has changed.
And I could tell you a dozen more stories . . .
There is no easy fix. It isn't a matter of finding the money or opening the store or coming up with a new plan. Sadly, it is just the way things are right now. The losses are happening right before our eyes.
And I am bereaved.
Generally, we look for encouraging platitudes. And perhaps there are some important words that we should say. But once in a while it is probably enough simply to be broken-hearted on behalf of the people we love.
There may be a time for words. But right now, the time is right for some heartfelt grief.
As for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved.
Lord God, please be gracious . . .