Today is a special Sunday for our community - Remembrance Sunday - A time set aside to talk about and process and engage something all people experience but that can be hard to talk about and process and engage - grief and sorrow. A time set aside to remember Loved ones lost by people in our community
It sounds a bit strange, but when I think about grief, I often think about apple sauce. A couple years after I lost my mom to cancer (when I was 15), a friend of mine from school lost his dad very suddenly (I think it was a heart attack or stroke or something - a “no warning” sort of thing) A bunch of friends of his (including me) went to his house to be with him. As someone who had recently had a parent die, I was obviously especially drawn to being with him. It was interesting to me though that, even with my experience, I still felt that pressure to “have to say the right thing” to him and to his mom and all of his aunts and uncles that were at the house too when I arrived. Do you know what I mean? That pressure? Is it “so sorry for your loss”? Or is that what everyone says so you have to say something else more meaningful? But what? I observed that some of my friend’s other friends were better than others at navigating that pressure. What ended up coming to mind for me in that place was something that a friend of my family’s did for me and my siblings after my mom died. They said nothing for a long time, just let us talk when we wanted or say nothing for a long time... and then they asked: is there anything you want to eat? Anything? And there was. We got French fries and burgers and I can’t tell you why that feels - to this day - like more than what it sounds like, but it just does. So I just tried to say nothing for a long time. And eventually I asked: hey man, is there anything you want to eat? Anything? And he was quiet for a while, and then he kinda gets a smile, and says: Apple sauce And I was like: ok, yeah, sure... like those little apple sauce cups that comes in a pack of six? Yes, he said. So I went to Jewel and got a generic-brand six pack of apple sauce. It was probably like 2 bucks. And I brought it back to my friend and we ate apple sauce together.
?? [Jack’s story of being there for neighbor] ??
Whether it’s that pressure of “having to say the right thing” when someone we know loses someone, maybe it’s feeling overwhelmed or paralyzed after we lose someone, maybe it’s feeling confusing emotions after we lose someone (like relief or just not very sad)...
Whatever it is, how to do grief and sorrow is not a straightforward or one-size-fits-all thing.
But I want to pass on how connection with Jesus has been so helpful to me as I’ve been touched by grief throughout my life.
There’s an ancient Jewish reflection in the Old Testament of the Bible on what a person of great character is like — later the earliest followers of Jesus would tie these prophetic words to Jesus — they perfectly tell his story:
He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. (Isaiah 53)
Jesus was many amazing things. One of those amazing things was this thing here that can feel hard to describe as amazing - but only at first I think: he was a man of sorrows, a man acquainted with deepest grief.
In his life, Jesus visited and touched those in pain and mourning, those no one else would visit and touch. In his death, Jesus experienced the height of suffering himself, being beaten and executed on a cross…
These ancient words that describe all this speak to me so much because they capture the paradox of sorrow/grief
It is both… So deeply human (every person ever in history can relate to sorrow/grief), AND Something humans naturally want to run from because it’s uncomfortable We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Doesn’t that feel true?
All of this hits at the central scandal of the historic way of Jesus - a God that suffers. Shouldn’t God be immune to that? Shouldn’t “all powerfulness” mean God is above that? With the imagination Modern, Western, American people like us have inherited when we conceive of God or the meaning of life or the supernatural, we might think this.
But Jesus’ take is something surprisingly and (I think) consolingly different. God is NOT distant and removed from humans and operating on different rules because it would be so trifling to play by the rules of humanity... but occasionally - since he’s nice - he’ll drop down to throw a bone to humanity God, rather, chooses to reveal himself by becoming human himself - in Jesus - God’s all powerfulness is NOT an ability to be removed from human sorrow and grief and suffering, God’s all powerfulness is an ability to go through the heights of human sorrow and grief and suffering and yet not be crushed. To overcome and be raised to something greater, in spite of the sorrow and grief and suffering of life. God’s all powerfulness is the hope of resurrection and heaven -- a promise that death is not the end When we lose loved ones, that’s not the final chapter of the story As Jack found himself saying to his neighbor: “I believe we live forever”
And Jesus shows us that he doesn’t keep this power to himself, his great mission is to share this power Before his death, Jesus told his closest friends that although he would be leaving them in person this was going to be better for them, because he would return to them in a different way Jesus was speaking of what the Catholic Church calls the great mystery of faith - Christ has died, BUT Christ is risen And, as the New Testament describes, the Risen Jesus “ascended into heaven”, so that instead of Jesus the person being available to a few humans in only one time and space, we would get Jesus’ Holy Spirit available to all humans everywhere for all time
This is what I’ve experienced After my mom died when I was 15 After my brother died just a couple years ago
This is what I and others in this community have gotten to experience flowing through us to our friends experiencing grief It’s why saying nothing and a gift of cheap, generic-brand apple sauce could mean so much Maybe there was something of Jesus’ Holy Spirit happening in my experience with my friend? Maybe there was something of Jesus’ Holy Spirit happening in Jack’s experience with his neighbor?
All any of us have to do to experience this or help make the experience available to another is to invite the God who knows and understands sorrow and grief so intimately to join us exactly where we are.
And as I mentioned earlier, “exactly where we are” can sometimes mean confusing emotions Sometimes we lose people and feel relief and then shame as a result of that (maybe we were a caretaker?) Sometimes we lose people and feel the weight of their flaws as much as (or perhaps more than) the good things we recall about them... we might feel confusing emotions because we notice that we don’t feel that sad All of these things are okay… there is no right or wrong way to grieve and mourn There is only honest or dishonest ways to do so So this is just honestly bringing to Jesus what actually is the case for you right now - whether clear or confusing
The best way to do this, I find, is surprisingly simple. It’s remembering and telling stories of those we’ve lost. That’s why that has always been such an important element to funerals and memorial services in basically every culture and tradition ever Remembering and telling stories of our lost loved ones is a surefire way to bring to the surface for us where we actually are in our grieving processes So just try to do that keeping in mind that you’re in the company of Jesus, who understands and can empathize... who is not a distant puppet master in your sorrow, who is a close companion in your sorrow
Well there are people in our community who in just this last year have been touched by grief. And a few of them are going to help us all today do some remembrance in the company of Jesus. In a moment I will lead us in a prayer and we will read the names of their loved ones lost. But before that, we’ll hear some specific remembrances.
[Light candle for each person this year] Thomas Dean Sal Oberts Ginnie Perry Rowan Serrano Julia Aida Vargas Peña
[Lead Prayer:] Lord God, you are attentive to the voice of our pleading. Let us find in your Son comfort in our sadness, certainty in our doubt, and courage to live through this hour. Make our faith strong through Christ our Lord. R/. Amen.
Lord, N. is gone now from this earthly dwelling, and has left behind those who mourn his/her absence. Grant that we may hold his/her memory dear, never bitter for what we have lost nor in regret for the past, but always in hope of the eternal Kingdom where you will bring us together again. Through Christ our Lord. R/. Amen.
May the love of God and the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ bless and console us and gently wipe every tear from our eyes: in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. R/. Amen.
[Lead prayer to remember all lost loved ones]