Sermon for March 5, 2008
Sermon for March 5, 2008
Jeremiah 31:8-13 and Revelation 7:9-17
Lent 4: Grief and Healing
We live in a broken world. Lent reminds us to attend to this brokenness. In the Bible, Jesus responds to brokenness with healing. Healing is the theme of this year’s Lenten season.
We began the Lenten season several weeks ago with healing in the broken heart. Our scripture was Psalm 13 (my heart is joyful) and II Corinthians 1:3-5 (God comforts us in our afflictions). We recalled together our solidarity with Christ’s suffering, the need to console one another as part of the healing process, and heartfelt prayer for faith as the beginning point for new hope.
Then we considered physical healing with Psalm 27 (the Lord is the strength of my life) and Acts 5:12-16 (healings in Jerusalem). We explored the important link between body and spirit, the importance of prayer for courage and facing our fears, and bringing our brokenness to the faith of the community.
Last week our theme was healing in our broken community with Isaiah 61:1-3 (good tidings to the afflicted) and James 5:13-16 (the community prays for healing). Serenity, reconciliation, justice, and respect: these are the sources of peace. They lead us not only into peace with one another, into healing community together. They also lead us into a deeper peace with God.
Today our theme is healing in grief with Jeremiah 31:8-13 (mourning becomes joy) and Revelation 7:9-17 (God will wipe away every tear).
Finally, on March 12, our theme will be dying as healing with Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 (for everything there is a season) and Romans 8:31-39 (nothing separates us from the love of Christ).
The passages together remind us that healing involves our hearts, our physical being, our community and world, grief and death. Today we focus on grief.
Grief is the natural human response to loss. The greater the loss, the greater the grief. The passages assure us that grief has an end point. Jeremiah reminds us that mourning does turn to joy. Revelation reminds us that God will wipe away our tears, and that death and loss will be no more.
It is important to lift up this ending and to recognize it. We will not be in mourning and grief forever. It will pass. God will resolve things at the end of time. This is the hope in which we live. And the hope gives us confidence to face the present.
In this present, on many days we struggle with grief. Our common hope guides us. And our common wisdom regarding grief gives us insight to sustain us along the way.
From the scriptures we know that grief not only has a beginning but also an ending. In that sense it is a passage. We sense from our experience and the experience of others that this grief passage is a process. When we are grieving, we are working through something, we are healing.
Think if you will of a physical wound. At first the wound is difficult. Gradually, often in stages, the wound heals until we live no longer with the wound, but only with the scar, the sacred memory of trauma survived.
Grief is similar. At first the emotional wound may be overwhelming. But there is healing, perhaps slowly. Eventually, we live with a scar from the loss, the sacred memory of trauma survived, but no longer are we facing an open wound.
The passage through grief’s stages is well worn by human travel. At the very beginning, especially if the death or loss is sudden or unexpected, we are filled with shock. Then, often while still in shock we at first deny our loss. Then comes anger. Often this is followed by or includes a time of bargaining with others and with God. Finally, there is an acceptance of the fate we have suffered. We do not always travel through grief’s journey in the same way, and these stages do not always come in the same order, or at the same speed. Sometimes we become stuck along the way, or we may spend time revisiting something we worked through long ago.
But we know these stages to be a form of healing, the way we move from grief’s beginning to its ending, a way in which we move from wound to scar, a means by which we find with time a will and a way to go on. In this sense, we heal through the days, weeks, months, and years of mourning and grief. Grief is healing.
We also know that as we pass through the stages, we come to plateaus or temporary arrangements. It is as if in this long emotional journey, we need to occasionally stop and pitch a tent so that we might rest for awhile. We make a temporary or provisional sense of things before we continue the journey. Sometimes these plateaus or temporary understandings may seem permanent. If that has happened and a wound is still not healed, we are firmly called this Lenten season to pack up our temporary emotional campsite and to move on. We may have miles yet to go before we find the serenity of a wound fully healed.
We also know that grief is a drink best appreciated when its cup is shared. There is so much that only the person herself can do in grief. It is a solitary process. But too much solitude in grief keeps us unnecessarily long in this place or that. We often move on at the urging of those who love us. Grief is best when shared.
And we also know that part of the healing is finding the wisdom that comes from living through the loss. We may be scarred, but in some ways through all of our losses, we become deeper, richer, wiser, more insightful, more serene, more peaceful. Grief brings us wisdom. Our scars are a form of sacred beauty.
The lessons remind us that there is an end to grief. Our shared experience on the journey reminds us that this healing journey of grief comes in stages and plateaus. We need the help of friends along this solitary way. We may need to break camp to move on. We will find wisdom and peace in all this.
For along the way of sorrow and woe, we will meet this one named Jesus, the healer of the gospels, the one who was acquainted with grief. In Lent we meet the one about whom it is said: by his scars we are healed.