Sometimes the most important lessons in life are simple. Because they are simple, they may seem insignificant. That the Easter message has something to say about loss and grief may seem obvious, but the challenge is to apply the Easter lesson to our daily lives. The message of the Easter season isn’t a magical pixie dust experience making us all better or turning life into a Disney dream. Earlier today, I preached at the Sunrise Service at the Downtown St. Petersburg Pier. I said that the Gospel Lesson reminds us that in the midst of deep grief there is hope. The message of Easter assures us that in the midst of pain, suffering, failure, anxiety, and fear, we can know the joy of the Easter season.
I decided to talk about loss and grief this Easter Sunday for a very practical reason. Over the past 12 months, I, myself, have been through a lot of loss and grief. I’ve also stood with many people going through deep grief. And when the grief is fresh, even raw, it’s hard to reflect on the experience. It’s never easy to think about loss and grief. This morning, I invited people to consider the losses and griefs we all carry from day to day. The Risen Savior brings healing and hope to our experiences of loss and grief. This is the simple lesson of Easter. The necessity of applying that message to our own losses and griefs is equally important. We must also acknowledge the reality that some of us will deal with depression and anxiety all of our lives. The message of hope on Easter doesn’t mean that depression and anxiety won’t be a part of our human experience. The message of Easter does assure us that in the midst of defeat, anxiety, and fear, we can still know the joy of the Easter season. I think we all need to hear that over and again, including me.
During the sermon, I talked about the tragic losses we have experienced at Eckerd College recently, including a student who died in a car accident this time last year and another student who died in another car accident just weeks ago. Also, one of our Eckerd graduates lost her precious daughter in Afghanistan where she was serving in the US Army. Additionally, my own father-in-law died in September, and we miss him very much.
Our losses are many. We also grieve the loss of dreams, pets, belongings and other things. These losses may not be as significant as the deaths of our loved ones, but they are still losses and they hurt. The day before Ash Wednesday, our dog, Buddy, died after 13 years. Every day we miss him.
As I preached on the pier this morning, I acknowledged that this might be the last Sunrise Easter Service on the historic pier as the city of Saint Petersburg has decided to tear down the pier. Some people might be grieving this lost. It made me think of the Bruce Springsteen song, Wrecking Ball. The song was originally written for the final concert in the old Giant’s Stadium in the Meadowlands in New Jersey. Later, Springsteen made the song the theme of his most recent album. Wrecking Ball became a metaphor for the economy, loss of jobs, home foreclosures, two wars overseas, lost dreams and all of our losses and griefs. Too many people have lost jobs, homes, their dreams and their way of life. We all carry with us daily losses and griefs. This Easter season, we look to our Risen Savior in the midst of the darkness, we look for hope when the wrecking ball has hit.
So how do we practice the way of Jesus in matters of loss and grief? As Christians, how do we live with hope in a world of suffering and loss? In the Gospel Lesson, this morning, John 18:1-18 (CEB), we heard that the angels asked Mary Magdalene, “Woman, why are you crying?” And, Jesus asked Mary the same question, but she did not even know that it was Jesus talking to her. He, too said, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?” This address, “Woman” was a sign of respect to Mary Magdalene, as it was when Jesus was talking to his mother at the Wedding in Cana in John 2, “Woman, my hour has not yet come.” We, too, need to respect one another and tend to our losses and griefs. In the garden, on the first Easter morning, Mary Magdalene still didn’t know that she was talking to Jesus, until he spoke her name, “Mary!” She responded, “Teacher!”
We need to hear the Good Shepherd’s voice. The Risen Savior, said, “Mary” and today he also says Douglas, Timothy, Cynthia, Martha and your name also.
Someone once taught me that hope is knowing that some of your best days are ahead of you. That’s where we start, knowing that some of our best days are ahead of us. That even though it is dark outside there is a light. Even though we are stumbling through the garden, we hear the voice of the Good Shepherd.
In John 10:14, we read, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own sheep and they know me.”
With time, we learn the voice of the Good Shepherd. We read our Bibles. We worship together on Sundays. We take communion. We love one another. We practice mercy and do justice. We learn to be like Jesus. We learn the teachings of Jesus. In time we come to believe the words are true: I am the good shepherd. I know my own sheep and they know me. We are not alone. We will love one another and stand together, even when the wrecking ball hits, especially when our world is tottering. The power of the resurrection is holding us up, the voice of the Risen Savior speaking comfort and strength to our wounded hearts.
Imagination is important. Imagination is a good thing. If you are in a dark place right now, can you imagine a new life for yourself? Can you believe that some of your best days are ahead of you? Can you imagine being fully alive? Can you imagine that you can overcome whatever is holding you back or binding you down? Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, we can say, “I believe!”
Can you imagine a better world? People of faith ought to be the most imaginative persons. We ought to be able to work for a better world, because of the promise of Easter. Because of the power of the resurrection, we can cultivate a garden in the world. We can be co-creators with God in making what Dr. Martin Luther King called the Beloved Community. Imagine a new life! Imagine a better world. Imagine the Beloved Community!
We need to turn to the Risen Savior. We need to listen to the voice of Good Shepherd. We need energy, imagination, intelligence and love. That’s why we need to pray, always. One of my favorite spirituals has become my prayer over the past years.
These words mean a lot to me:
I love The Lord
who heard my cry
and pitied my every groan
Long as I live
and troubles rise
I’ll hasten to God’s throne.
Sometimes the most important lessons in life are simple. The lessons of Easter are both simple yet profound. Our challenge is to apply these lessons discovering comfort and strength for the living of these days. Some of our best days are ahead of us.