31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
February 14, 2021
John 11:1-6, 17-44
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
It’s Valentine’s Day today – a holiday filled with cards and candy, flowers and loved ones. Valentine’s Day is a day to think about love in all its forms; however thinking about your loved ones might leave you feeling sad this year instead of warm and cheery. You might be thinking about the last time you got to hug them. You might be thinking about those you will never get to hug in this life again.
Grief is hard to talk about. Loss leaves us feeling empty, vulnerable, uncomfortable, so no wonder we want to ignore it. As Barbara Bartocci writes though, “Grief denied is grief unhealed.” (A Time to Grieve, Kenneth C. Haugk, pg 13)
And not just grief over the loss of a loved one due to miscarriage or death. We experience loss in other areas of our lives, the loss of relationships due to divorce or estrangement, the loss of a job, the death of a dream, the loss of life as we once knew it – all of these are losses we need to grieve. Grieve or carry them around like unhealed hurts on our hearts, like burdensome weights upon our shoulders.
In his book, A Time to Grieve, Dr. Kenneth C. Haugk writes that there are three N’s to grief. Grief is normal; grief is natural; and grief is necessary.
Grief is normal, natural, and necessary. And as Jesus shows us in this morning’s passage from John, there is a place for grief in a life of faith.
There is a place for grief in a life of faith. That statement might seem contrary to you. As Christians, aren’t we supposed to always have hope? When a loved one dies, aren’t we supposed to rejoice and give thanks for their life in heaven? When a job ends, a relationship ends, when our lives are completely turned upside down by a move, a diagnosis, a pandemic, aren’t we supposed to say “Thy will be done, Lord” and expect that better things are ahead?
Yes and even as we have faith that God will bring us through, there is a place for grief because grief is normal, natural, and necessary. Even Jesus wept.
In this morning’s scripture passage, we hear about Mary and Martha sending word to Jesus that their brother Lazarus was seriously ill. Surprisingly, despite being dear friends, Jesus doesn’t immediately go. He waits two days. In the verses I dropped out, the disciples try to convince Jesus to not go at all because they fear he will be stoned to death if he returns to the area of Bethany and Jerusalem. Jesus might have been waiting for tempers to cool, or he might have been busy teaching and healing. Or he may have delayed because, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory.” (John 11:4)
When Jesus does arrive in Bethany, at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, we discover that this illness has led to death. In slightly different ways, Mary and Martha both say the same thing to Jesus, ‘if you had only been here, this wouldn’t have happened.’ Grief comes with a lot of emotions, and one of them is guilt.
For me, Mary and Martha’s words represent that guilt we sometimes feel in a time of loss. The family that is finally persuaded to go home to eat, sleep, and shower after days sitting vigil at Grandma’s hospital bedside, and then Grandma passes, and they say to themselves “If only we had not left…..”
Grief and loss come with a lot of emotions, and that is okay. Grief is normal, natural, and necessary. All of our losses need to be acknowledged and brought to God.
In the same way that we can sometimes want to deny our own loss, we can sometimes want to talk others out of their sorrow. In last Sunday’s Hartford Courant, there was an article about people who experience long term affects from COVID-19. Alana DiPesa, a licensed clinical social worker, who works with these patients who are “struggling to reorient their life” had this to share:
“So often, supportive friends or family members, in trying to be helpful say things like, ‘You’re going to be fine,’ ‘Don’t worry about it,’ ‘Focus on the positive,’ and the reality is, that’s not helpful all the time,” [DiPesa says]. “We need to be able to talk about what’s difficult and what’s scary and why we’re feeling anxious or depressed…” (Eliza Fawcett, Hartford Courant, Feb 7, 2021)
In the midst of loss, we need to remember that grief is normal, natural, and necessary. We need to remember that there is a place for grief in the life of faith, and we need to remember that grief comes in many different forms.
Jesus wept over the death of his friend and those around him looked on with approval – ‘see how he loved his friend’ they said. Grief does not always look like this though. Sometimes, there are no tears. Sometimes, there is anger. Sometimes, we want to grieve together, and sometimes we want to grieve silently alone. In A Time to Grieve, Dr. Kenneth C. Haugk also shares, “Always be real with God. It’s the way God can be real with you.” (A Time to Grieve, Kenneth C. Haugk, pg 39)
Mary and Martha are real with their grief, authentic with their pain and loss, and Jesus acknowledges it. Jesus does not deny it. Jesus does not pretend it away. Jesus shares their pain. Jesus shares our pain. Even though Jesus knows that “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory.” (John 11:4), even though Jesus trusts in God’s plan of resurrection, still Jesus grieves. Jesus weeps – for his own loss, for Mary and Martha’s loss, for all that Lazarus has gone through. Jesus is unafraid to walk this journey of loss because Jesus knows that grief is normal, natural, and necessary.
So Jesus gives himself space to grieve. Jesus gives others space to grieve, even as Jesus knows that Lazarus will not remain in the tomb. It’s a miracle, a blessing when Lazarus comes out. And yet, Lazarus is still bound.
And that is the way it can also be with loss. Cancer treatment, an abusive relationship, the pandemic, can be over. Our lives can return to “normal”. We emerge from the tomb miraculously alive! and find …….that we are still bound. We are still bound by the trauma we have just lived through and that trauma, that loss, needs to be grieved, acknowledged, and brought to God. There is a place for grief in the life of faith.
Where is the place for grief in your life? What do you need to grieve this day? Is it the death of a loved one this past year or decades ago? Is it the loss of a home, a job, a relationship? Is it being unable to gather in this Sanctuary for worship or gather for birthdays and holidays? Maybe you need to grieve the loss of a dream, an expectation of what life was going to look like?
What loss do you need to grieve this day? What space can you create to acknowledge and bring to God the loss that is heavy on your heart and in need of healing?
This Valentine’s Day, the best way to show our love to others and ourselves is to acknowledge all of the losses we are feeling, and through the normal, natural, necessary, and much needed process of grief, bring our hearts to God to be healed and made whole.