by: Phil Hirsch
For several years I volunteered at a home for children who were very sick. They had HIV and AIDS in a time when there was no good treatment. They would go in and out of the hospital and sometimes, tragically, they died. The limits of their lives were painfully short and those of us who cared for these children we were often overwhelmed by what we experienced.
“In your boundless compassion, console us who mourn.” So goes the liturgy of the Burial for the Dead.
“Compassion” is the heart of Jesus’ life, the word literally means ‘to suffer with’ someone. The 13th century theologian Meister Eckhart said that the best name for Jesus might just be “Son of compassion.”
One day, Jesus met the funeral procession of a man who died and the scripture says he was ‘moved with compassion’ for those who were feeling the deep pain and sorrow of that man’s death. He responded by raising the man from the dead as if to show that not even death can limit God’s love.
Life is limited, love is not. That is what kept us going at the home for sick children. Love means having deep empathy for others who are hurting. In some cases, I have literally felt another’s hurt in my own body.
At times when tragedy and life seemed like more than I could possibly handle, I could feel God suffering with me. In the pain of loss, betrayal, loneliness, injury, family distress, or physical injury, it has helped me to remember that God is bigger than what I was facing. When I wasn’t sure or wasn’t feeling it, I could simply pray, “in your boundless compassion.”
Phil Hirsch has served as a pastor for almost 30 years. He currently is the Executive Director for the Domestic Mission Unit of the ELCA in Chicago, IL. He is the former president of Dooley House in Camden, NJ.