Scripture: John 11
“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will love, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” ~ John 11:25-26
Grief is one of the great paradoxes of human existence. On the one hand it is one of the common threads that weaves itself throughout all human experience in every place and every time on earth. Some time or another in life, everyone will experience grief. Whether it is the grief of losing a loved one: a parent, a partner, a sibling, a friend or even a child; or the grief of that we can experience as we see injustice and oppression take its toll on us, on the people we love or even just the world around us; or the grief of lost opportunities, lost jobs, lost friendships. Whatever it is that causes us to grieve none of us are immune.
But on the other hand grief is also one of the most misunderstood emotions. I have sat through enough funerals where the gathered crowd was told to just be happy or forget their grief, to know that most of us don’t know how to handle grief. Grief is one of those emotions that you can’t understand until you’re going through it, and even then the grief you experience may not relate in any meaningful way to the grief of someone else is experiencing.
Grief is at the same time eminently commonplace and frustratingly enigmatic.
In the church, we sometimes have an unhealthy relationship with grief. While we recognize the reality of grief, we can believe that mourning and grief are a sign of spiritual weakness or a sign that we doubt the promises that God has made to us in Jesus that death is not the end.
But when we think that we fail to grasp the truth of the Gospel and the God who we worship.
While Jesus was and is the eternal Son of God, he also was entirely human. Jesus assumed all our existence when he came to dwell among us in the flesh – from our sorrow to our joy, Jesus experienced it all. And as the story of Lazarus reminds us, Jesus also knew the depths of grief. While the Gospel passage set for All Souls, doesn’t include Jesus’ reaction to Lazarus death, his words that we read in our passage this evening only make sense in the context of the whole story.
John tells us, not once, but twice that Jesus was greatly disturbed in spirit, that he wept over the grave of his friend Lazarus and over the grief that his death had caused Jesus’ friends Mary and Martha. If Jesus, the very Son of God, could experience grief and deep sorrow then who are we to deny the grief that we or anyone else experience in their own lives.
Although Lazarus died, Jesus offered a path to life. Through his very self, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus – Lazarus and all who experience death – both physically and spiritually – are offered a way into the eternal presence of God.
Death and grief are part of the journey to joy and everlasting life. Hope is only possible in a world where suffering and grief exist, after all the fact that life can be taken from us – either through death or loss of routines and expectations as it was during the pandemic adds special meaning to it – that which can be lost is eminently valuable. In Jesus that which can be lost, is found eternally, found in the presence of God in his Kingdom where there is life eternal.
If there is anywhere where grief should be present it is in the life of God’s church and God’s people. Prayer is the most appropriate place for grief – there is no shame, no spiritual deficit, not even doubt from grieving the people and life experiences we have lost. Jesus knew that he could bring his friend Lazarus back from the dead, and yet even he experienced the depths of grief and sorry. Grief can be a holy act of remembrance, an honouring of the person or experiences that you have lost.
It is in relationship with God and with one another, that we find the strength to face the griefs that we carry. It is in the presence of God that we begin the journey of living with our grief, a journey which will take many turns – some happy turns, and other turns not so much – but in Jesus, God will ultimately bring us to a place of joy – a place where there is no longer any suffering, any pain, any death, any tears. A place and a person in Jesus that knows the depths of sorrow, but out that sorrow can embrace the fullness of life which comes out from God out of the depths of grief.
In Jesus you should not be ashamed or scared of your grief – it is a holy act. But do not be shocked if God surprises you along the way with glimpses of life, glimpses of everlasting joy. That is what he has promised you and those that you have lost. Take hold of those glimpses even as you grieve.
Let us pray.