God’s grace and peace be with all of you.
Thanks for welcoming me here to Shepherd of the Valley as your interim pastor. The particular role of an interim is new to me— I have ten years of ministry experience in two congregations here in the Southwest California Synod. Now as your interim, I am here to help with your transition period over the next year. The goal is to help you all get ready to welcome your next regularly-called pastor and start the next big chapter in your ministry as a congregation.
Already I’ve gotten to know some of your council leadership and staff, and hear some of your story. I look forward to hearing more from all of you. I’m going to tip my hand a bit here at the beginning of our time together. I’m expecting to spend a lot of time over the next year talking about grief.
How many of you would say that you’re grieving right now?
Today we’re observing All Saints Sunday. It’s an occasion to remember the saints who have died, the people we have lost, especially since last All Saints. How many of you have lost a loved one in the past year? What if we expanded that out—how many of you have lost a loved one in the past three years?
Of course, we know that death is a source of grief. But it’s far from the only one. There are lots of things that can cause us to grieve.
So reflect with me a little further. Think about the past couple of years. How many of you have experienced a broken or strained relationship? How many of you have had to deal with unemployment or underemployment? How many of you felt isolated from community over the past few years? How many of you had to cancel plans to travel or spend time with loved ones in the past few years?
How many of you had to say goodbye to your pastor recently?
So I’ll ask you again, show of hands… how many of you would say that you’re grieving right now?
The truth is, there is so much unresolved grief in the world these days. We have witnessed millions of deaths worldwide from COVID, not to mention the countless other disruptions and disappointments caused by the pandemic. Divisive politics and polarization have caused rifts among friends and families. Personal tragedies and large-scale disasters happen with heart-rending frequency.
We are all grieving. And admitting we’re grieving isn’t a sign of failure or weakness. It’s just reality. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we’re grieving. Ignoring it or neglecting it doesn’t make it go away.
Grief is hard, and I think our culture is pretty bad at teaching us how to handle grief. We don’t know what to say when someone is grieving, and we don’t know how to talk about our own grief, especially if it stems from something other than a recent, dramatic loss.
Instead of tending to our grief, we say things like, “It’s not that bad” and “Other people have it worse”…right?
Or maybe if we’ve been carrying chronic grief, we say things like, “I just can’t seem to focus these days.” We wonder why it’s so much harder to keep juggling all the same responsibilities that used to be manageable. We find ourselves more short-tempered, or more tired, or less patient than we used to be. Any of this sounding familiar?
Grieving is work. It is hard work. It is holy work. If we don’t attend to it, then grief saps our energy, our creativity, our ability to imagine the future.
Ignoring it doesn’t make grief go away. Grief is a crying child—it needs to be cared for, it needs to be comforted, it needs to be loved.
Our society is grappling with grief on a scale that I don’t think we’ve ever experienced before, and many people don’t have the resources or even the language to address that grief. We are all carrying around grief that’s wailing in our ears for attention, and wondering why our ordinary responsibilities seem harder to accomplish.
As people of faith, we are uniquely equipped to attend to our grief, individually and in communities. For one thing, we talk about grief—we have a vocabulary for it. We have days like today, All Saints Sunday, when we pause and look back, remembering people we have lost. We light candles and ring bells and say prayers for “all the saints, who from their labors rest.”
It’s so important to acknowledge grief and talk about it. We can’t just skip ahead to the happy ending. Yes, as Christians we believe in the resurrection to eternal life; we trust that we will see our departed loved ones again. But the loss and the pain and the grief are still real.
Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died, even though Jesus knew he would bring Lazarus back to life only a few minutes later. Even Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life, the one who conquers death itself, took time to grieve.
And there’s the words from our gospel reading today. Jesus says to his disciples, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” Notice he doesn’t say, “If you believe in me, you should never weep.” He doesn’t say, “If you are my followers, nothing bad will ever happen to you.”
No, Jesus tells us, “Blessed are you who weep now.” Jesus honors our grief. Jesus knows the importance of grief. Jesus knows the importance of this grief work, knows that it is sacred. Jesus doesn’t sweep our grief under the rug, or tell us to get over it, or remind us that other people have it worse.
“Blessed are you who weep.” That is the message for this All Saints Sunday. Blessed are you who weep for loved ones who have died in the past year. Blessed are you who have lived through a pandemic. Blessed are you who have experienced disappointment and isolation. Blessed are you who have faced loss and change and uncertainty.
Blessed are you whose pastor left, and yet you’re still showing up to church. Blessed are you.
Attend to grief, because we have to attend to our grief. We have to do this hard and holy work. And yes, there is weeping. There is sadness and pain and sometimes it feels unbearable. But we grieve now, while we hold onto those promises that God has given us.
We know that God’s promises are trustworthy—that those who weep now, will laugh. That those who have died will be raised to eternal life, and we will be reunited in that great communion of saints.
So yes, we grieve. And we rely on that promise, what Paul calls our “inheritance.” It is holy, holy work. Ame