“Whenever there is a death in the church family, we are saddened by the loss, but the loss of Jackson Ramsey is especially tragic because he was so young, because he lost his battle with despair, because he died at his own hand.”
That’s what we’ve been dealing with at Richmond’s First Baptist Church in the last few days–the suicide of a 16-year-old boy so full of life and joy we could hardly believe it. I’ve just come from his memorial service, where more than a thousand people gathered, most of them young people who had come to remember their friend and classmate Jackson.
Some wonderful stories were shared, stories that made us laugh out loud and remember this “jolly giant” (as his sister called him), stories about his big smile, and strong hugs, and crazy dancing. Some powerful words were shared, words that helped us find God’s presence in the midst of our grief, and offer back to God the gift that Jackson was.
As Jesus once said about John the Baptist, “He was a bright and shining light” (John 5:35).
In the end I said, “Before we leave this place let’s make a solemn promise to weep all the tears we have in us to weep, because that’s how you get the grief out; to give and receive all the hugs we can, because that’s how broken hearts are mended; to give away all the love we have to give, because that’s the only way we’ll get it back again; and to pray all the prayers we have in us to pray, because that’s how hope is restored. Finally, to put the matters of life and death into God’s hands and to leave them there, because that’s where they belong.” And although I didn’t say it out loud I was thinking it as I left the pulpit:
“So that we never again have to gather for this reason.”