About a week into the coronavirus pandemic, Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran pastor and author posted on Twitter,
“It’s also now a pandemic of human disappointment.
Cancelled trips, art openings, sporting events, book tours, concerts. Things folks have been planning for, working toward, and excited about - that’s a lot of grieving on top of sickness.”
When I read her tweet, I paused for a moment. How true! A pandemic of disappointment- and, along with disappointment, grief. I think so often in these days of high school and college seniors, those students preparing for study abroad trips, those planning cruises and trips to see grandchildren, and those who were just plain excited for a small event coming up. Many of my friends who are getting married are reckoning with rescheduling or postponing their weddings that they’ve painstakingly worked on for months and months.
There is so much delay of celebration, and along with it, a mountain of disappointment and grief.
Our Grief Support Group reminds us often that grief doesn’t look one particular way or last for any particular length of time. We often imagine grieving folks who mourn appropriately, crying for just a year or a few months over an appropriately sized loss and then wiping their eyes and moving forward. But this just isn’t how grief works. We grieve over small and large events, visible and invisible things. We grieve the change in our ability as we age, our work when we retire, a place we lived in when we move, a life we once had. We grieve in divorce, in empty nests, over weddings, in awful diagnoses. Then, when we grieve, we are angry, sad, numb, over-productive, isolated or overly social, and the list goes on. And grief often lasts a lot longer than we ever knew was possible.
There is no “right” way, "right" time, or "right" thing to grieve. Grief just shows up, for all of us. It stays as long as it must, changes us in its presence, and is unexpected in its character.
All of my reflecting on grief came to a head this week as I read our scripture for this Sunday, from John 11. In it, Jesus has received word of Lazarus’s imminent death. Lazarus, and Lazarus’s two sisters Mary and Martha, are among the closest of Jesus’s associates. He counts them as friends. In this word, he hears that if he hurries, he can heal Lazarus before he dies. But he doesn’t hurry, and Lazarus dies.
When Jesus shows up, Mary and Martha greet him in the throes of grief. One is angry, one is sad. And Jesus doesn’t try to account for his slowness, but meets them right where they are in their grief, and joins them. This passage is where we hear the shortest verse in all of scripture:
“Jesus wept.” - John 11:35
Jesus didn’t turn away from their mountain of grief, he joined them in it. He wept for his friend Lazarus and then promised a way forward out of the grief and despair. He was not afraid of their anger or sadness and did not admonish them for it. He was simply present, grieving along with them, sharing in the ministry of the Spirit of God.
Of course, the story ends with Lazarus’s resurrection. This moment is a precursor to Jesus’s resurrection, which promises each of us that death and illness do not have the final word. God in Jesus has defeated death.
I am so grateful for this word during this season. I find myself praying frequently, “God, where are you?” as I grieve my own canceled plans and changed routines. Yet this passage, and the season of Lent, remind us that God is present with us in the highest of our highs and the lowest of our lows. God has defeated death and will not leave us or forsake us.
As we continue to worship online this week, know that God is present with you in your homes, in your waking and your sleeping, and in that pesky grief. God is not afraid of your anger or sadness, and God is with you.
I’ll join you in worshipping online on Sunday- but in the meantime, we miss and love each of you!