Read Pastor Julie's sermon as shared on Facebook Live. Visit https://www.facebook.com/saronstrasburg each Sunday at 8:30 a.m. between now and May 10, 2020, for a brief live service of scripture, prayer, and a sermon by Pastor Julie.
Acts 2:14a, 22–32 | Psalm 16 | 1 Peter 1:3–9 | John 20:19–31
It’s not unusual to look for meaning when there is grief. The trick is that there really isn’t any meaning inherent in the loss itself. It’s just that: Loss.* Whether death or pandemic or separation or every little expectation that is dashed on a daily basis- we seek to avoid the inevitable discomfort by hurrying through it, getting to the end; wrapping it up . . . I wonder if Thomas smells a rat, here. Isn’t this what people do when they are grieving? I mean, SUUURE, Jesus showed up with some great words that promise something, like “Peace be with you.” Sounds like typical avoidance or maybe wishful thinking.
This time around, instead of wanting him just to “catch up,” I find myself being thankful for Thomas—who is going to be calm and cautious with this Jesus-being-alive news. That is, he isn’t busy chasing moments that are hearsay and, rather, would have continued grieving in his own way—as we all grieve in our own ways—for another week! I’m sure he must have felt the pressure and even the judgement of the other disciples, but he is willing to assert that his own path is the one that waits to see Jesus in the flesh. Indeed, it would have been easier in some ways to jump on the bandwagon and “believe” what he’s being told. He wouldn’t have had to sit with the meaninglessness of the death of Jesus for all these long days. He isn’t ready, though, and so he’s going to wait.
And so those- like us—who weren’t there, might be blessed in grasping this meaning of life out of death; that is, to “believe” (“trust” “commit” “live this way”) but our time is going to include plenty of loss as well: That might drag on for a while. Or pop up here and there. And feel meaningless. In our current situation, we are experiencing all kinds of loss. Eventually and in bits, we might be able to discover meaning from the experience—like reconnecting with family, re-prioritizing our lives, learning once again to help and appreciate our neighbors—but it’s okay to recognize that there is no inherent meaning in a disease that spreads so fast and wrecks such havoc on human bodies. Suffering is suffering. Loss is loss. There is no way around it. And so, as in all grief, we start in the only place there is to start- like with Thomas- before we jump to resurrection: “Yeah, I don’t think so!” And lean in, practice prayer, resist judging how others grieve.
It’s a good practice for the long haul, after all. Jesus is not going to be the same or interact with his friends in the same way. Thomas may be well-positioned for having grieved Jesus longer, to see that the loss has only just begun: Everything will be different from now on. Seeing Jesus alive must have been profoundly stunning and joyous—and as research has shown—good things also bring an experience of loss. Our nervous systems take 40–60 days to adjust to a new reality, and in the meantime keeps sending out signals that put our bodies on high alert with chemicals that alter our experience of life: Maybe in sleeplessness, sleepiness, confusion, strong emotions like anger and elation. Our poor pre-frontal cortexes, meanwhile, are trying to make sense of it all, regulate it and . . . is anyone else here feeling a bit exhausted? There are maps of the emotional roller coasters after disasters, which include mobilizing and also feeling immobilized: The main thing being, that we don’t have any other choice than to move through, experience, feel and process. And with the losses are often the “new.” The good things. Maybe even an experience of new life, resurrection: New understanding, for certain. We can’t go back. And maybe some of us can see the profound sense of togetherness arising.
Jesus being dead and then alive is like a 180 deg. turn, twice for Thomas and the others: It would have left them reeling. What I love is how specific this moment of the new discovery is: Touching the wounds of Jesus. First the others, then Thomas. It’s not so much about proof in my mind, as the deep, personal connection. This is what makes Jesus among them real, no matter what the future brings. There is meaning simply here and now . . . In the midst of loss, we can also name the meaningful moments right now. You are sitting here, hearing from the Bible and about Jesus and good news. THAT is a meaningful moment. Hang on to it. Or, you walked around the block and the snow was melting and the birds were singing. Maybe you picked up the phone and called someone. Or pulled out your art supplies and painted. Even though it hasn’t all been resolved. That is the peace that Jesus is passing on to his disciples. That is the breath of the Spirit that he breathes on them: The ability to continue in the midst of fear and uncertainty and death and new things, too. In the first reading assigned for the day, (Acts 2): 23 Peter loosely quotes King David, “You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.” Thanks be to God. Amen.
* Podcast, “Unlocking Us,” Brene Brown interviewing David Kessler, who worked with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and her groundbreaking work on death and dying, stages of grief.
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