Pressure pushes down on our lives in so many ways leaving us feeling weary and frayed. The way things are in the world, the realities of our work responsibilities, family needs, and personal struggles can make it seem that there is no relief to be found. Our scripture texts from the Revised Common Lectionary over these weeks provide opportunities for us to name the pressure and pain in honest lament and to receive the balm of God’s love and provision. God calls us to a new place of freedom and, as the late David Bowie teaches, to “give love one more chance.” Join us on the journey!
The Pressure of Grief
A reflection shared by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC, November 4, 2018, All Saints Sunday. “Under Pressure” series.
Text: John 11:32-44
Grief is like a mercurial companion that draws close to us when our heart is broken, when someone or something precious has died. Grief’s company can settle us into a deep silence and stillness, it can drive us to distraction and to destruction, it can sideswipe us with fierce anger and lay us low with regret. Confusion and exhaustion are often stirred by grief who tends to wrap around us, putting pressure on all our faculties and affecting us in ways we don’t fully comprehend.
Some among us today are walking very closely with grief. Others are intimate with grief from long association, though the relationship has morphed in a variety of ways. Regardless of where we find ourselves today, sooner or later, every human life will know grief. Death touches us all.
Today we have heard part of a story in which death touches Mary and Martha and Jesus—all of whom knew and loved brother and friend, Lazarus. In the midst of this complicated story, Jesus reveals one of the most important things we will ever know about the heart of God. Jesus’ own heart broke for the suffering of those around him. As Jesus cries, we learn that the God whom Jesus came to reveal is not distant from our pain and our grief. God shares our pain, weeps with us and is deeply grieved by anything and everything that threatens human wholeness and flourishing.
But the point of Jesus’ coming into this situation isn’t only to reveal the compassion of God for our human grief and suffering—though that is certainly a word we need to hear. It’s not that God feels sad for us but then leaves us to just muddle through. Jesus’ purpose was to reveal even more than the great compassion of God—he came to reveal the glory of God, the power of God’s love to call forth life that is full and free even in the midst of death.
Jesus comes into a place of death, the point of despair and deep grief, and speaks words of life, words of faith in the power of God’s love, words of freedom from the things that keep human life bound by death. Jesus’ ultimate purpose here is to offer a great gift to all those who were grieving (who ARE grieving)—the gift not only of a loved one restored for a time, but more importantly, the gift of freedom from the fear of death for ALL time, the gift of knowing that God’s power is stronger than death, that God’s love is fiercer than the grave. Sooner or later we will all face death—the death of those closest to us and our own death. And the promise we receive today is that we need not fear death. For while we may not know WHAT is beyond the grave, we do know WHO is beyond the grave. God will never leave nor forsake us or any of our loved ones.
This story, given to us on All Saints Sunday, is a proclamation of our astonishing hope: that death does not have the last word, that there is life beyond this world and the saints of our church, the saints in our lives, all the saints who have passed from this world into the next are alive—alive in and through the power of God’s love in Christ. Grief may be a powerful companion on our journey. But the power of God’s love is greater still. God holds us and our grief and our loved ones in a tender embrace…until that day when “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more,” and all things are made new.