Grief & the Fullness of Life

(You may watch video fo this sermon here)

There is so much to grieve these days, so much loss and sorrow and sadness – as well as upheaval and anger and uncertainty and all of the delightful things of life –

But today, beloved church community, I feel moved to attend to the heart that is sad.

Grief is nothing to deny or hide away or hide from.

Grief can be a gateway to grace.

Heartbreak can break open a hard heart.

And we need our hearts open for there to be healing.

So, let’s listen to our bodies. Are we feeling sadness in our bodies? If so, let’s allow ourselves to just be sad, and to allow the tears, the weeping, the moans.

Now, if you’re feeling light and delighted right now, then by all means don’t this get you down. Go ahead and dance! For the love of God, dance!

But I know there’s a lot of sadness these days. And it’s not being named and honored very well, as far as I can tell. So, I need to keeping doing that.

We’re in the middle of a pandemic. The loss of life is staggering. We’ve had 144,000 people die in our country in a matter of months. Worldwide, 626,000 dearly beloved souls have suffered and died of Covid. The situation in war torn areas is horrific – Yemen is wracked by cholera as well as covid. There is so much to grieve. (

Then there’s loss and sadness due to social isolation. And loss and sadness because of lost jobs and closed businesses.

But somehow there is not weeping to be heard in the air.

Now there have been big public expressions of grief and outrage led by Black communities. But overall there have not been the kinds of public expressions of grief in our country that we need in these grief-stricken times. Social distancing of course is a big factor. There haven’t been proper public funerals and even just group hugs.

But there’s also just been an astonishing level of denial of the fact that there’s so much pain throughout our communities.

Now, I don’t know about you, but in the culture I was brought up in – upper Midwest, Scandinavian folks forged by farm life – you don’t do much crying, especially if you’re a man. You take a toughminded approach to the realities of pain and loss in life.

Alcohol and anger are outlets, of course. As well as a certain kind of religious view. The promises of heaven take away our fear of death, right? But that somehow also means we should not grieve too openly when death comes to those we love.

“They’re in a better place.” “God wanted another angel.” “You have to stay strong for your family.”

I know I’m not just speaking for myself here. When I was a chaplain in hospitals I encountered all kinds of ways that people believe that having a strong faith somehow means that you shouldn’t feel sad and helpless and sacred when that is what you’re feeling because you’re going through something truly terrible.

But the testimonies of our faith are full of tears. The Bible is full of tears.

And full of examples of what I opened by saying:

Grief can be a gateway to grace.

“The Holy One is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit” – Psalm 34:18

“The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not scorn.” – Psalm 51:17

Heartbreak can break open a hard heart. And we need an open heart for there to be the possibility of healing.

Our healing story for today is about just that. It’s the famous story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, from the Gospel of John.

Now, the way the Gospel of John tells the story of Jesus’s life overall really emphasizes Jesus’ divinity. The healing story from last week emphasized Jesus’ humanity – that was from the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. There’s always this fascinating interplay you can see between divine and human nature in Jesus.

In the story about the healing of Lazarus, in John, Jesus at first seems really aloof to what the people he cares about are going through. His perspective is so much in the Realm of Heaven and he’s so clear that death is not the end and so assured that he will heal Lazarus, that Jesus doesn’t rush to help out when he learns that Lazarus is deathly ill. He takes his time and doesn’t arrive until Lazarus has been dead for four days.

When Jesus does arrive, Mary – this is a different Mary from Jesus’ mother, Mary a follower of Jesus, whose brother is Lazarus, that Mary comes up to Jesus, upset with him:

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Then, we are told, when Jesus saw her weeping, and saw everyone else weeping, he “was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.”

He said, “Where have you laid him?”

They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”

Then, Jesus wept.

That’s the shortest sentence in the Bible: “Jesus wept.” And it’s the key that unlocks Jesus’ healing power in this story.

His divine serenity must meet with the anguish of his humanity for his healing power to be unleashed in the face of death. And Lazarus lives again.

So I encourage us to look to Jesus for that kind of healing balance between the view from the realm of heaven and the view from the realm of earth.

In the face of all these crises, with the overwhelming reality of catastrophic loss, we can find peace in the transcendent reality of the spiritual realm, peace in the glimpses we get of the God’s-eye-view of the cycles of life and death and new life under the light of heaven. Yet that must not become an escape, a spiritual bypass.

Instead, the Way of Jesus is about bringing that realm of heaven into the heartbreaking realities, as well as the heart delighting realities, of this realm of earth. That is where compassion is born. That is where we find fullness of live, even in view of death.

Thanks be to God.

#Covid19 #Lazarus #Christianity #Grief #Healing

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