Joel Whiteside

Pastor Joel Whiteside

First Presbyterian Church

In Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, the young prince is grieving the loss of his father. However, Hamlet’s mother and stepfather are ready for him to move on from his grief. Apparently, his grief is putting unwanted attention on questionable aspects of their marriage. Therefore his mother and stepfather urge Hamlet to put away the behaviors and appearances of mourning and get on with his life.

Memorably, he replies that his grief is not just a performance comprised of specific behaviors and rituals of dress, but a genuine experience of loss. Here are the words he uses: “But I have that within which passeth show, these but the trappings and the suits of woe. His grief is not something performed; it arises out of an authentic experience of loss.”

Hamlet conveys the truth that grief for him is the authentic experience of loss, deeply personal, beyond and before any outward signs of mourning. Grief is not something we perform, it is something we experience.

Jesus informs us in Matthew 6: Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. (NRSV) Jesus draws a distinction in this chapter between a faith that is performed and faith that exists as a passion, deeply felt. Faith is the authentic experience of a direct connection to God. It is that before it is anything else. Prayer begins in the silence of a trusting heart, reaching out to God and receiving the assurance that God is listening and drawing us into the give and take of dialogue and the realization of healing grace at work in our lives. This is the beautiful assurance in this passage.

​Christianity is not about performance or about show. It is not about how we look to others. It is not about what other may think of us. It is not about shaping what we do and who we are to win approval or be accepted. To reapply Hamlet’s statement to our faith: We have that which passes show.

The Danish theologian, Soren Kierkegaard made this confident claim: Faith is the highest passion in a human being. Many in every generation may not come that far, but none comes further. (Fear And Trembling 1843)

In Christ, we have the knowledge of who God is and how God is with us.  In him we have a direct connection to the wonder of God’s forgiveness and power. Don’t look for God in external trappings of faith.  

Find God in the stillness and firm conviction of grace placed in our hearts and minds.  This is the surprising and powerful assurance provided in this passage. God has drawn close to us, and desires entrance into the inner spaces of our thoughts and feelings.

Authentic Christian faith is an active power, vitality and courage nurtured within. It is freely given. We don’t need to do this, that or the other to obtain it. It is not an act.  It is not something performed for others. It is a source of life and hope freely given. 

All that is required is the ascent of an aching and yielding heart.