Space to Grieve
This sermon was first preached on November 1, 2015 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Towson, Maryland for All Saints Day.
My friend Whitney always says that “All Saints’ Day is one of the most underrated church holidays of the year.” It gets “overshadowed by its more glamorous cousin, All Hallows Eve (otherwise known as Halloween) similarly to how Holy Saturday gets lost in Holy Week,” overshadowed by Good Friday, and of course, Easter. But, she says, “All Saints’ Day can bring us a unique blessing just as Holy Saturday does” because they are days that are about brining the darker parts of our human experience before God and “washing them in holiness.” "All Saints’ Day is so important because it is the one church holiday set aside during the year to tend to our grief.” Sure, we experience grief in the liturgies of Good Friday and Holy Saturday, “but that grief is for the suffering and death of Christ.” But All Saint’s day is for us, for remembering the people we have loved and lost. People “who were important to us, who made an impact on our lives and who have died and left us behind.” Grief is a powerful and tricky emotion. It can lie dormant and then flare up unexpectedly with an unsettling vengeance. It can mask itself as anger or fear. Grief is a hard emotion to talk about, because we are so uncomfortable with it. We often don’t know what to do with grief, except to pray that it goes away. We don’t want to admit that a little bit of grief, gets collected from each loss, and stays with us, like a scar or a tattoo, reminding us of what was and the pain that never completely goes away. Our society tells us to get over our grief. To get ourselves to the point where we don’t feel it anymore, so we can move on. Mostly I think this comes from the fact that we are just so uncomfortable with each other’s grief. We are supposed to be happy, not sad! We are supposed to be positive, not negative. We give each other these messages even in church! The Church-- the Body of Christ-- the one place it is supposed to be safe to bring our entire selves, even and especially the broken parts. Well, on All Saints Day, we can. At the Eucharist, we will read allowed the names of those people we have lost this year. If there is someone you have lost, whose name is not on the list, I invite you to say their name out loud. We will let ourselves feel whatever we feel in those moments. We will create a space for our shared grief and remind ourselves that there is always a space for our grief within God. When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell down at his feet and said to him through her tears, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping, and everyone else who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” This translation is actually pretty weak for the Greek words that are used here. The first verb translated as “greatly disturbed in spirit" has a connection to anger. It is not simply a strong feeling, but it is more of a passion and pain that comes from anger at the situation. The root of the second verb translated as “deeply moved” is tied to a stirring up of oneself on the insides. The same word could be used in a physical sense for stirring up water, disturbing the calmness of the still water. In a more personal sense, it signifies both the mental and internal disturbance that is akin to almost being physically sickened and disturbed. Grief is tearing up Jesus inside. Then in the shortest verse of the Bible (verse 35) Jesus weeps. Jesus has the same reaction that the mourners do – he weeps real tears. God’s heart is broken by the death of his friend Lazarus. Jesus experiences grief the same way we do— it breaks our hearts, and stir up our souls. Who wants to celebrate that? Just like who actually ever wants to go to a funeral? I have clergy friends who say that they would rather do a funeral than a wedding any day, but I sure wouldn’t. I cry at every funeral I do, every funeral I go to, even if I didn’t know the person. Because the people who did know them and love them still, are there grieving, telling stories about the person that they loved who has died and that loss is palpable. Grief in another person touches the grief we carry in ourselves. It is a painful reminder that we are all connected through death. Why on earth would the church have a feast day for this? And why on earth would we choose All Saints day as a day for baptisms? Baptisms are supposed to be happy, joyous occasions, celebrating the welcoming of a new person into the family of God. More often then not these days we baptize babies. Baptisms and funerals seem like complete opposites, making for a very weird tension to hold in our service today. Baptisms and funerals are not as opposite as we might first imagine. For what we are actually doing in a baptism, when we pour the water over the baby’s tiny head, is acting out a ritual that symbolizes that this tiny soul is dying in Christ. Now that is pretty weird if you don’t understand what it means. What it means is that through baptism we are unified with Christ in his death and resurrection. We become part of the body of Christ. As a part of him, we have died with him. And as a part of him, we have been raised to new life in him. The Apostle Paul writes, “Do you not know that all those who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the power of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 5:3-4). Today we will baptize baby Julian into the household of God, and we will reaffirm our own baptismal covenants promising once again to live differently because we have died and been born again. Therefore we promise not only to believe in God but to act as Christ’s body in the world. And what does that mean, to “act as Christ’s body in the world?” It means to continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers. It means to persevere in resisting evil, and whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord. It means to proclaim by word and example the Good news of God in Christ. It means to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. It means to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. It means to do all this recognizing that that the only way we can do any of this is with God’s help. And so we say that too, over and over— “I will with Gods help.” At our baptism we proclaim the kind of life we intended to live, the life that will be remembered when we die. At our baptisms, promises are made that will determine the course of our lives. In Baptism we are promised to share in Christ’s resurrection and that means we can live our lives without the fear of death. We are promised that God will be with us, here and now, in this life and because God is with us, our lives are sanctified. If you have been baptized, you are a saint. The word “saint,” comes from a Greek word meaning “holy ones,” and that Greek word comes from a Hebrew word meaning “set apart,” in our Baptisms we are set apart, consecrated as holy ones, named, called and commissioned by God as children of God. All Saints’ Day, then, really is our day, since we are the ones who have been set apart to do God’s work in the world. We are the ones who God has promised to be with through out our living and our dying, in this life and in the next, when we join with the saints who have gone before us. The God who overcame death and the grave also knew grief, and called out the name of his friend. We are named and known in our baptism and we are named and known in our death. God will call our names and we will come. So let us celebrate those saints who now from their labors rest, and those saints who labor on with us, knowing that the family of God stretches across time and space, to include every tiny soul who was and is and every shall be baptized into the life of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.