Faith While Grieving
The Rev. Margaret Thor
March 29, 2020
Prayer – May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable, oh lord, my strength and my redeemer.
I saw my first robin about two weeks ago. Now the snow is finally completely melted in our yard. I often hear kids playing and see families walking in the neighborhood. Yes, spring is on its way. I am delighted to see the shoots from my tulips poking out of a covering of leaves. I love my tulips. Since I’m not a gardener, it is always amazing to me that the tulips come up year after year. We even have some that pre-date our moving into our home 26 years ago.They take no energy on my part – they just happen. So, when the deer or some other critter chomped them down last year before they bloomed, I was a little mad, bummed and even grieved a bit over the death of my beloved tulips. I was really looking forward to the brightness and splendor of their colors as we transitioned from the gloom of winter to lightness of spring.
That’s how I feel now. I’m feeling bummed and I’m grieving. As one writer noted, “loss of normality is something we grieve.” This year the transition from winter to spring is not the normal I am used to. Instead of enjoying it with my friends and family, I’m sheltering in my home. Yes, I can sit outside and take a walk, but it is not the same as when I’m in community of others. I miss the easy flow of conversation, the ability to touch or share a hug, or even to have a conversation without feeling like I’m raising my voice to be heard across the 6 feet of physical distancing. I wonder if many of you are feeling the same way.
Grief is something we hear in today’s gospel. Jesus is called to be with his friend Lazarus who is ill. When Jesus finally arrives in Bethany, he meets Mary who has been followed by the Jews who were with her, consoling her in her grief. Since Mary and Martha were the sisters to Lazarus, it was not unusual for them to be joined in their mourning with close friends especially as Lazarus was buried only 4 days earlier. (I don’t imagine that much physical distancing happened.)
The gospel describes that in seeing this group with Mary that Jesus was disturbed and began to weep. Although this seems a bit contrary to his first reaction to news of Lazarus’s illness. When Jesus initially hears it, he does not go to Lazarus but says, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” I guess this isn’t what I would expect Jesus to say. Yet, we know that Lazarus does die. I suspect this gospel is a foreshadowing of things to come. For after speaking with both Mary and Martha, Jesus goes to the tomb and performs his final act before his arrest by the authorities. He commands Lazarus to come out of tomb. Lazarus, who was dead 4 days (stinky dead as Mary points out), comes out and is now alive. Jesus in this final undertaking, brings hope to the world. Jesus has shown us and those around him that not only is he able to make the blind see, the lame walk, but also make the dead come alive. We are now able to believe as the Jews did who witnessed this that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. As Jesus told Mary, “those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me, will never die.” This is good news!
I also see good news in the lesson from Ezekiel. Ezekiel is offering hope to the people of Judah who have been exiled from Jerusalem. They are a dispirited group – described as dry bones. “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” Oh my! Doesn’t that sound familiar? We are cut off from each other – at least physically. Yet, the Lord responds “… I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act…” We see this promise of new life – the hope of things to come. We are not left in the valley to wither and dry up – instead we are given the spirit of God to live. God demonstrates again and again that God is faithful to God’s people.
Our Bishop-elect, Craig Loya posted recently on his FB page. This part of the message brings me particular comfort during the pandemic. He wrote: “In good times, in uncertain times, in joy, in sorrow, in life and in death, God is faithful, and there is nothing, dear friends, nothing, that can take us from the embrace of God’s love, which holds us all together as one body, however distantly we might be disbursed.
Our lives are different right now and will likely be different in the future. But it doesn’t mean that we can’t go on living in the way that Christ has called us to live. We must continue to love and serve our neighbors. I see the community of St. John’s (all of you) and the world already responding. We are giving generously of our money. We are calling one another and finding other ways to connect. Many of you heeded the request to sew face masks. This is a wonderful gift to give. We can give our time – our Faith in Action partner, Hallie Q Brown, for example is looking for people to help in their Food Shelf and delivering food, as does Meals on Wheels. We can advocate for others and the world by writing letters and calling our elected leaders. I’m known for saying at the end of worship “Our worship here has ended, now our service begins – let us go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” Truly, we can still live out our service in the world as faithful people of God.
In closing, I would like to share something a friend of mine posted this week on Facebook. It is written by Jessica Hitchcock.
I know things are hard right now,
But I see so much Easter,
So much resurrection happening already.
People have quickly learned to completely
Change the way they live their life –
For the greater good.
We are working together.
We are offering the help we can offer.
We are learning new ways.
We are reaching out and staying connected.
An empty church on April 12th will be one of
The most beautiful celebrations of Easter
There ever was
It will show that we’ve changed everything
To love another.
And that’s Easter to me. That’s Jesus to me.
And my tulips? This year they too are sheltering in place with a nice fence to protect them from the critters and deer who ate them.