31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
July 26, 2020
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Ambiguous loss. It’s a term psychologist Pauline Boss identified to name losses that don’t have a resolution. At first, the term was used for the grief that comes with a loved one being there but not there, like with dementia or Alzheimer’s. The person is alive, and yet, we grieve the loss of who they once were.
Ambiguous loss also speaks to the grief military families feel when their loved one is missing in action. Is their loved one alive or dead? No one knows. Families whose loved ones have gone missing in natural disasters like tsunamis feel this same ambiguous grief. As do the family and friends of those on Malaysian Airlines 370, that plane that completely disappeared with no trace 6 years ago. Families are left wondering what happened, left living in uncertainty and grief.
Our whole world is experiencing ambiguous loss right now. We might not want to talk about it. We might want to deny it. I want to deny it; however we are all experiencing loss during this time of pandemic.
We have lost the comfort that comes with rites of passage and the expected rhythms of our calendar year. There are loved ones who have passed that we cannot grieve and celebrate with memorial services. While schools tried, graduations and promotion ceremonies just were not the same this year. Summer picnics and vacations and family reunions and annual events, like the Big E and Silver Lake church camp, have all been canceled.
Not being able to worship together in our Sanctuary, not being able to go about our daily lives like we were used to – that is loss. It is ambiguous loss because while back in March, we thought this pandemic would last for two weeks; now, we know there is no resolution in sight.
So what do we need for such a time as this? What do we need as we are grieving ambiguous loss on top of ambiguous loss? We need God’s comfort and joy. We need God’s comfort and joy as found in the promises of God’s words and in the promise of God’s Word, Jesus the Christ.
The words we heard from Isaiah this morning we often hear at Christmas. These words were a promise, a promise from God to a people who felt like they were walking in the unknown, the ambiguous, the uncertain. Once again, the Israelites had been conquered. This time by the Babylonians. Their homes were destroyed; their fields were destroyed; families were separated as the best and brightest were hauled off to live in Babylon.
For those taken into exile, there must have been enormous grief as they wondered if they would ever go home again. For those left behind, there must have been tremendous grief as they wondered how they were going to rebuild and survive with very few resources. And all of them must have wondered if they would ever see their loved ones again.
And into that uncertainty, into that grief and sorrow, Isaiah spoke God’s message of comfort and joy, that a child, a Savior was coming and “he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)
God’s promises, God’s words, spoken through the prophet Isaiah, were incredibly comforting to a people living in sorrow, living through a difficult time that had no foreseeable end.
And God’s promises, God’s words, continue to comfort us, regardless of what difficulty we are living through. As we walk in darkness, as we live with the loss and uncertainty of divorce, depression, disease or even pandemic, we hear God’s promises that a child, a savior, shall be given to us, and we are comforted; we have hope and joy.
Not because our grief or situation is resolved, not because God has magically fixed everything. We are comforted because we trust God is with us, watching over us and promising us a future of hope.
That’s from the prophet Jeremiah. It’s one of my favorite Bible passages, and it was written to another people who had been conquered, to another people separated from loved ones and living with ambiguous loss. God’s words, God’s promises, were a source of comfort and joy to them, as they lived through this extremely difficult time.
What Biblical words are a source of comfort and joy to you? Psalm 23? One of the passages Chris shared in our bulletin announcements? What words are a source of comfort and joy to you?
And if you don’t know, if you don’t feel that familiar with scripture, then you simply need a new tool – a modern translation of the Bible like The Message. Maybe a Bible calendar, like this one by Keion Jackson or little scripture cards. There are so many tools to help us discover which of God’s words, God’s promises, bring us comfort and joy.
Seven hundred years after the Israelites were conquered by Babylon, they continued to be a conquered people. This time occupied by the Roman Empire, and like their ancestors before them, they, too, wondered if they would ever be free again, ever be able to go about their normal lives without this cloud of fear hanging over them.
They had been comforted by God’s words, spoken through the prophets and the stories of God’s faithfulness passed down through the generations, and now, they were to be comforted by God’s Word, with a capital W. God’s Word through whom all things were created and came into being. God’s Word that had been present from the beginning. God’s Word that was now becoming flesh to live amongst us in the form of Jesus the Christ.
For such a time as this, when we are walking in sadness and anxiety, when we are walking through trauma and ambiguous loss, a grief that has no answers and no resolution, in such a time as this, we are comforted by the promises of God’s words and the promise of God’s Word, Jesus the Christ.
Not because God’s words will give us all of the answers, not because Jesus will protect us from all harm, we are comforted because we know through scripture and our relationships with Jesus Christ that God keeps God’s promises. God has given us God’s own self and nothing in heaven or on earth can ever separate us from God’s unconditional love. What comfort and joy!