33 And the king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” 2 Samuel 18:33
I received a text yesterday afternoon that the husband of a dear friend here in town passed away very suddenly. They had had lunch together that day. She went to the doctor. She came home and found him on the floor of the kitchen. Her pastor texted me because Shannon was asking for my wife to be there. So I called Trish, and she had heard and was already on the way to her house. I met her there.
The street was already lined with cars. I parked on the other side of the street. And as soon as I got out of my car, I could hear the wailing from Shannon’s back yard. I let myself in through the backyard gate and joined the dozen or so friends, pastors, and neighbors that were surrounding Shannon. Some were holding her, helping her breathe. Some were on her phone, tracking down contacts and people who needed to know. Some were taking turns holding Shannon’s little dog, who was desperate to get to her.
Some were strategically blocking the glass door leading into the kitchen, where her husband was still on the floor, while the county coroner did his work.
Our friend was inconsolable. She wasn’t rational. She pounded her fists into her thighs, insisting to those around her that he was asleep, he was asleep, he was asleep. She needed to make dinner. They were signed up to bring a meal to a friend whose wife had been sick, and she and Rob needed to get started on the meal.
So I sat across from her on the patio, silently praying. Not knowing anything else to do. I took my turn holding the dog.
Then, when one of her pastors invited me to take his place next to Shannon, I sat next to her. I put my arm around her and just spoke Scripture to her. I tried to think of every Scripture in my memory bank that mentioned peace:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27) And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7) The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22) One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that you, O God are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving (Psalm 62:11-12)
I have no idea if any of it even registered with our friend. Her eyes never focused on me. I’m not even sure she knew who I was in that moment. Maybe her breathing slowed a little. Maybe her clenched fists loosened just a little. Or maybe I’m just imagining it.
Eventually, I went back to holding the dog.
Death is so mean. You are in situations like that, and you are reminded that it’s not supposed to be this way. Death is an interruptor. A disruptor. A thief. Death is a terrorist, causing us to fear our future without the one death takes from us. And when someone is hit with the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one, sometimes all they can do is beat their fists on their thighs and breathe into a paper bag and insist that it can’t be real.
I think that was David in the passage today. He had done everything he could to make sure his son Absalom wouldn’t be harmed in the battle (2 Samuel 18:5) But Absalom died anyway. Death has no respect for the plans we make to prevent it. And the wail of David’s cry shook the palace:
“O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” 2 Samuel 18:33
Even though I’ve read this story many times before, I was struck by something in today’s reading that I had never seen before. You probably know enough Hebrew to translate the name Absalom:
Absalom: Ab + Salom
Ab: Father. Think Abba, Abraham (Father of Nations), etc.
Salom: Shalom. Peace.
Absalom: Father of peace. Or My Father is Peace.
David’s wailing over his son could be read as a prayer to the God of peace. I’m not saying that was what it was for David in the moment. I think he was really wailing for his son. But perhaps there was a moment in the midst of his wailing that God the Father gently reminded David of the meaning of his sons name. And mingled among the wailing was this reminder of who God is:
O my son!
…Father of Peace
My son, my son!
…My Father is peace!
Would I had died instead of you, O…
…Father of Peace…
My son! My son!
Grief is mean, but God is real. Death is the serpent in the Garden. But the God of peace will soon crush Satan underneath His feet (Romans 16:20). And one day, all our cries of mourning will turn to dances of praise. When the Disruptor is disrupted and the Interruptor interrupted. Death will be no more, and there will only be the Absalom, the Absalom.
The Father of Peace.