‘Still Trying Easter’ April 22, 2018 Doug Norris
There are a couple of things circling around for me, this past couple of weeks. In the middle of the many things going on, these two I want to ponder today briefly, and I think they come together, and offer a message. Simply put, the losses of the Humboldt bus crash, with the remarkable effect on people across the country, still reverberating. And the season of Easter. Loss, and Hope.
A CBC reporter was speaking with a young man from the Humboldt bus. He had no words, really. He tried, said a few things. tumbled around it, paused. Tried again. It sounded like catching smoke in a net. It was unsayable. One of the comments I hear so often is the difficulty of knowing what to say to someone grieving a loss. And that person knowing what to say back. So sometimes we say awkward things, or utter cliches, and sometimes we dodge conversations altogether.
I read recently some of the most eloquent words I have found about grieving, and hope : “…when I wake in the night, I want more. I want what happened not to have happened, to have taken another course. How easily it might not have happened! How easily we could have been spared! It would not have taken much. Even the thought of its possibility comes into my mind now like a new freedom. It lifts the darkness and and pushes away the grief. It is as if a traveller, weary after days of walking in a dry desert, a place void of shade, were to come to a hilltop and see below a city, an opal set in emerald, filled with plenty.” (‘The Testament of Mary’, in a novel by Colm Toibin)
There are of course all kinds losses, a job, a relationship, a dream, children leaving home. Loss is inevitable, all of our spiritual traditions teach that loss is part of the human experience, and to live fully and abundantly is not to have avoided loss but to have learned to walk with it with some grace.
So Karen and I have been looking at plans for later this year to develop a group of some kind for those experiencing loss, and in some reading I was doing about this, found a useful description of the tasks of grieving.
4 Tasks – for a fully developed coping with loss. And I see in these exactly the experience of the followers of Jesus, and I began to see the Easter story a bit differently.
- Accept the reality. In our conversation last week one of the folks commented on how in the weeks and months following the death of her father she still found herself buying little gifts for him, then realizing the reality. The first move is to let sink in the fact of the loss. No dodging now, or numbing with diversions…
Did Jesus really rise back to life? Was there some wishful thinking to ease the pain? (dream of Dad – it felt so good) Woman who saw her husband. Many people seem to experience this, but not talk of it…
Perhaps a bit scandalously, let me muse about whether the experience of the followers of Jesus who saw him after he died might have been this kind of seeing, a vision, a dream, very real, but not in the The passage we read today in the gospel was a scene in which Jesus, to prove he was really back, not only appears to his people, but asks for something to eat.
2) Process the pain (hard work to do). Not knowing when weeping will simply come out of nowhere, or anger, or fatigue. This is the hard work. With no way around it. It is also a sign of health, ironically. People who are floored by loss are not dodging it. In the shortest verse in the Bible Jesus comes to where his friend Lazarus has died, and the verse simply reads :’Jesus wept…’
Even talking about this is hard work. I found I would far rather be writing a sermon about gardening or Dug Ford or the rise of Pickleball. But it is a kind of ‘Pay me now or pay me later.’ deal.
3) Find a new path that leads on (no circling in this lost place – traveler coming to a hilltop…) The disciples of Jesus foundered for a while, then they began to gather. At the Temple in Jerusalem, to pray and sing and to look after one another. And a new community formed. The way forward
One of the most intense experiences I find as a minister is that of occasionally celebrating the marriage of a man or a woman with whom I have also celebrated the funeral of their first partner. No more profound emotional work for them than to mark this kind of path – a way forward, with no denial of the loss, but a receiving of the gift of new life, permission too I’ve again. ‘I will give you a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning’ (Isaiah)
4) Integrate the one who was lost (gone, but not gone…) Here is the most developed and redeeming stage of this journey – a new way forward is found, it is not as it was before, but the one who was lost is part of the way forward. A silent companion, present, not a source any longer of pain but of comfort. ‘Not a day’ one of our people last week noted. ‘not a day that I don’t feel her right here with me…’
Right to this moment, us, in this place, the movement of Jesus has for thousands of years never seen him again and yet we understand that he is among us and nothing beautiful we do does not include and embody him.
“our bond is so strong we will always be together” – Humboldt player.
“I am in you and you are in me…” – Jesus
We may not be overly affected, for very long, by the Humboldt story. New stories will capture our attention. And Easter comes and goes. But I think I see a story here that is more than these two things that circle right now. It has to do with everything we do – with having children and raising them, with working, with loving, with sickness and health…
It is that the thing to believe in, the thing to watch for, the thing to not lose hope in, is that it comes back together. We come back togther. We are, any time we are drawn apart, offered a way back. This is the character of the Gospel. This is the character of the indomitable spirit that dwells in humanity. ‘They cut me down and I leap up high’. Never in the way it was before, but a way back to wholeness.
The final word is that there is a way back to life. We are reassembled. And we find that we are still together. Whole. And together again.