Crowning Sorrow

Image: Still from Episode 3, Season 3 of ‘The Crown’, ©Netflix, 2019

Episode three of the third season of The Crown re-tells the true story of the day when a coal tip, engorged with water following very heavy rain, turns into liquid and pours down the mountain into the valley town of Aberfan. One hundred and sixteen children from the local primary school and twenty eight adults die in the disaster.

The Queen is immediately urged to visit Aberfan by one of her advisers, but according to her “the Crown visits hospitals, Martin, not the scenes of accidents.”

Prince Phillip, her husband, is not so reticent. He visits the town and walks with the survivors to the graveside service at which a mass grave is filled with coffins.

When he returns to London the Queen approaches him as he pours himself a drink. “How was it?” she asks, perhaps sheepishly.

His answer is profound:

“Extraordinary … Grief … The anger … At the government … The Coal Board, and God too. Eighty one children were buried today. The rage … on all the faces … behind all the eyes.

They didn’t smash things up … they didn’t fight in the streets.”

“What did they do?” asks the Queen

“They sang! … the whole community … It’s the most astonishing thing I’ve ever heard.”

I found the first two series of The Crown riveting. And after watching episodes one and two of this third series I was worried that the best days of the story were behind us.

But that moment, in that episode, in this series … I think it’s just about the best television I have ever seen.

Now, I know it is only television—I know that this conversation between the Queen and her husband probably never happened. But the idea that Christians should take their grief, and their rage, and their anger (even their anger at God), and funnel those emotions into song … this is not the stuff of fiction. It’s the stuff of Scripture. It’s what the exiles did when they were in Babylon. It’s what Jesus did when as he was approaching Gethsemane (Matt 26:30). It’s what we do too, when we are feeling lost and alone and anxious and sad. Or at least we should.

The idea that Christians should take their grief, and their rage, and their anger (even their anger at God), and funnel those emotions into song … this is not the stuff of fiction. It’s the stuff of Scripture.

We who are united by faith to the Lord Jesus don’t suppress our emotions. And nor do we pretend that everything is OK. But neither do we smash things up. Or fight in the streets.

We open our hymn books, and we sing.

We express our sorrow. We pour out our emotion. We sing through tears. We lament together. And, slowly and sometimes painfully, we allow God to turn our minds away from our valley of Aberfan, and we imagine ourselves to be somewhere else: the place where he is taking us; the eternal city in which, according to the prophet Zechariah, the streets are filled with playing girls and boys.

The song Philip heard the mourners singing at the graveside in Aberfan was written by Charles Wesley. And it is just about perfect in expressing what needed to be expressed then, and now.

Jesus, lover of my soul,

Let me to Thy bosom fly,

While the nearer waters roll,

While the tempest still is high.

Hide me, O my Savior, hide,

Till the storm of life is past,

Safe into the haven guide,

Oh, receive my soul at last.

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