On Grief and New Life – The Rev. Michelle Meech
April 11, 2021
This sermon was preached to the online community of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Kingston, NY on the Second Sunday of Easter, April 11, 2021. Click here to read the day’s scripture. Click the play button above to listen along.
Among the disciples, Thomas is like Peter, I think. Peter, as you may recall, is the disciple who always seems to fall short in the gospel stories. Always trying too hard or just not getting the lesson that Jesus is trying to teach, but so incredibly enthusiastic that he ends up being endearing. Peter gives us a clear understanding that the disciples were not blameless, spiritually advanced people. They did not have special knowledge or know how to do special things. They were merely human. Like us.
Thomas, or “Doubting Thomas,” as we’ve come to know him, is like this. He demonstrates in this story, an aspect of what it means to be human. He’s not nearly as endearing as Peter, however. As a matter of fact, we usually think of Thomas as a bit grumpy, if we’re honest. Or, at least I do. A bit of a downer, Thomas is, throwing water on the Resurrection party with his distrust and suspicion. But then, Thomas is grieving.
Grieving the loss of his friend, of his teacher. Grieving the loss of the movement he had been a part of. Grieving the loss of Love.
We forget the grief of the disciples all too easily, I think. In our hindsight as 21st century Christians, we jump ahead in the story, emotionally speaking. We anticipate Pentecost – the moment when enough people came to believe so deeply in Love that they decided to come together and form the Body of Christ. “Christ is risen. We can move on and do “church” again.”
We jump ahead to the institution of the church and the testimony of the community before we really deal with what Resurrection means to us personally and how that is connected to our grief as humans. It’s hard for humans, especially in our society, to admit to our grief. I think we believe that grieving makes us… somehow… broken.
Yet, if we look at our society, it’s full of people grieving and not knowing how to deal with it – mass shootings, white supremacy, suicide, political tension, blame… even the refusal to wear a mask is a form of grief – grief for what some people believe is a loss of freedom.
And so we Christians take our cue from John’s Gospel and we disparage Thomas for doubting (his form of grief), for not believing like the rest of the disciples did, for not jumping on the bandwagon. We say, “If only Thomas had faith.”
There is a tendency in human systems to create scapegoats out of people like Thomas. The ones who are not in agreement about spoken or unspoken rules and beliefs and who are, therefore, not like us. These are those who are cast out. And one of the things that has always troubled me about John’s Gospel, is John’s decision to cast Thomas as destructive to the disciples. Within a week of his teacher Jesus getting crucified for doing the very same thing – challenging authority in the name of Love.
Instead, maybe we should look at Thomas as someone who is believing more deeply in the movement that Jesus started. Except that his grieving is getting in his way.
Is it not Love, or a form of love, that brings Thomas to this point?
So distraught over the loss of love that he lands in an emotional no-go zone, refusing to believe so that he doesn’t have to feel the pain again. Refusing to participate, to love, so that he can protect himself from disappointment.
It’s not the kind of Love that Jesus teaches us about – the self-giving love of surrendering completely to God’s Will for us. But it’s human love that comes to express itself in grief. This is what Thomas shows us in today’s reading, how we grieve.
And Jesus may have a few words to say to Thomas in today’s gospel, but notice… he takes the time to be with Thomas and show him, to honor his grief. He takes the time to love Thomas back to life, back to belief, back to Love. And this is what saves Thomas, what brings him back to community, what makes him an apostle.
Where are the places of pain in your life? What needs to be grieved so that you can finally let go and allow new life? Not to forget. Letting go is not about forgetting. New life comes because we remember.
It may not surprise you, but I’m going to use a gardening metaphor here to help illustrate this. A plant, any plant, cannot become new life unless is has some memory of the plant that gave it life. Seeds all carry the necessary DNA for new life to arise and this DNA is a memory bank of what has come before.
The same is true for us. We have the capacity for new life because we remember, because we hope. So letting go is not about forgetting. But it is about Resurrection.
What have you lost that means a lot to you? Who have you lost? Perhaps a relationship has changed or someone has died. Perhaps, like everyone else on the planet, you’re grieving the loss of human touch and company in this pandemic – shaking hands, hugging people, sharing a secret in someone’s ear, or just singing alongside a friend at church.
And more importantly, will you allow yourself to grieve? Will you?
Grieving is so different for each person. It’s not always a simple 5 steps as psychology teaches us. Sometimes it just takes time. Sometimes it requires us to confront another person. But it always feels like a hole at first. Something, someone, a part of us… is gone. And instead of filling that hole with anger or distraction, perhaps we could let ourselves just experience the loss and see what comes.
Bishop Mary spoke about this in her sermon last week on Easter Sunday… how the women flee in fear at the end of Mark’s Gospel. They didn’t want to stick around to see what comes next.
This is such an incredibly important reading to have right after Easter because Thomas is also a resurrection story, you see. Thomas, whose grief took him down to the grave over his love for Jesus, is truly resurrected along with Jesus, just as we are. Just as we always are.
We are given new life in the Resurrection, not because we believe what we are told to believe as Christians. That’s not what new life in the Resurrection is about. We are given new life because we have experienced loss. We’ve experienced the death of ourselves in some way and have come to such deep grief that we, perhaps for the first time or perhaps for the fiftieth time, go looking for Christ ourselves.
And always, always… where we find Love, we find Christ, waiting for us, to show us what’s real, inviting us to put our hands in and to bringing us back to life again.
So before we get to Pentecost, before we get to the institution of the church and what the church teaches us about Resurrection… let’s spend time during this Easter season to recognize, and to honor, and to name and to truly allow ourselves to experience the ways in which Christ saves us personally. Not in the past tense – stories from the past – but in the present tense. Right now. How is Christ saving us?
What are the ways in which Love is bringing you back? The ways in which God is showing up in your life when you are willing to be real, when you are willing to grieve and offer your so-called brokenness?
In other words, what are the ways in which we are being made new through Love in Christ’s Resurrection?