(SWAMPLAND.TIME) — Rick Warren has preached thousands upon thousands of sermons, but this message was different. The last time he had stood the pulpit at his Saddleback Church in southern California was on Easter, seventeen Sundays ago — and five days before his youngest son, Matthew, 27, shot and killed himself, ending a lifelong struggle with mental illness.

On Saturday night, for the first time since their son’s death, Rick and his wife Kay returned to their 20,000-member congregation. Together they faced the question tens of thousands of Christians have been asking: how are they — two of the world’s most famous Christians — able to hope in God in the midst of their despair?

Thousands of parishioners packed the auditorium and three overflow tents on Saturday for the first of Saddleback’s five weekend worship services. A dozen local pastors all sat in the front row in a show of support for the Warrens, along with Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, producers of the hit television series, The Bible. When Rick and Kay walked hand-in-hand on stage, the crowd stood to their feet in appreciation and applause. Kay began to cry, and Rick kissed her on the forehead as he too grew teary. “Love you too,” he told the audience. He paused for just a few moments, and then he began to preach.

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