When He came in, Jesus said to them, “Why make this commotion and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping.” (Mark 5:39)
When Christ told the grieving friends and family gathered with the parents not to weep because their child was not dead, He confidently asserted but just sleeping, His words were understandably met with much skepticism. St Basil the Great, not commenting on this particular Gospel lesson, does think skepticism is understandable in the face of tragedy.
“But the Apostle also says, Give thanks in all circumstances. And how, one asks, is this possible? How can a soul, crushed low by disasters and pierced with grief, avoid bursting out with complaints and tears over things that are truly terrible? Should one give thanks as if receiving a blessing? When something happens in my life that my enemy wants for me, how can I give thanks for it? If a mother has a child snatched away prematurely, so that she is wounded by sorrow more bitter than labor pains, her heart grieving over the loved one, how should she suspend her complaints for words of thanks? How?
By saying this: The child she bore has God as its true father, and God is a wise protector and counselor. Why not let ourselves yield entirely to the action of such a wise master rather than complaining when we are robbed as if it is our property, and pitying the dead as if they have suffered some great injustice? Consider, instead, that the child is not dead but rather given back; that the friend does not face death but is merely on a journey, following a route that we too must take, but going his way a little ahead of us. Let God’s command be your companion for the road, a steady flame and delight to discern the heart. Proceed with this print principle as a guide for your soul, a guard over every thought, so that you cannot be shaken by what happens in life; instead, your mind will be like a rock in the sea, one that endures the wind and waves without moving.
Why are you not more joyfully accustomed to the fact that mortals come from mortals? Why is the death of your child such a surprise? If someone had asked you when your son was first born what the child was, how would you have answered? Would you have said it was anything other than a human being? But if it is a human being, then it is obviously going to die. What is so offensive when a mortal dies? Don’t you see the sunrise and set? Don’t you see the moon wax and wane? Doesn’t the earth turn green and then become dry? What in the world around us lasts forever? What remains unchangeable and unshaken in its essence? Watch the heavens and observe the earth; not one of these things remains eternal. (ON FASTING AND FEASTS, pp 113-114)
St Basil does think it may be too much to expect people to rejoice in the Lord in a time of tragedy. However, he also believes Christians should not be shocked or taken by surprise when a loved one dies because we each are mortal and death should be expected by all who are paying attention to the world. It may be too much to expect parents grieving the death of their child to rejoice in the Lord, but it is also the case that Christians should be better prepared to face death since they know the Truth.