Closing Eucharist Mourner’s path facilitator training Trinity February 27, March 1, 2019
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
What a journey we have been on. Susan, Tricia, and I have had the privilege of spending two intense days with a group of very gifted people who have been training to minister to those grieving the death of significant persons in their lives. In doing so you have walked in the shoes of those you will be ministering to by sharing your own loves, losses, and triumphs.
You have listened and told each other the stories of your own loved ones who have died. You have shared their pictures. You have talked about how you learned to grieve as a child. We have talked about the physical side of grieving. We have learned that tears are helpful and appropriate in our grief. You have shared what you miss the most and what you are doing to live on, how the relationship continues in a very different way and about small victories in your life. You have talked about how difficult it is to live on and make decisions by yourself especially when the one you loved was bigger than life. You have talked about things you remember about your loved one. You have talked about best and worst times. Finally, last night you wrote a letter to your loved one that you will offer at this altar.
Many of you will minister to those who will question where was God in all this sadness and tragedy that they have experienced. Sometimes the God of their understanding seemed absent or at some great distance. Many will come through this experience with a very different relationship with God.
Each of them will have a different story and will be at a different place on this journey. That is what will be especially beautiful about the groups you will mentor. I know each of you will respect the other and not insist that your neighbor’s journey be like your journey.
We have also tried to look at grief from a Christian and an Anglican viewpoint, very subtly using the traditional Anglican tools of scripture, tradition, and reason.
What does say Scripture tells us about death? Devote followers of Jesus, both Mary and Martha, question why he was not there to save the person both he and they so dearly loved. We know that Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus. Our mentor is telling us that weeping is appropriate. At his own death Jesus asks God, “God where are you?” He is telling us that doubting, arguing, feeling abandoned are feelings just as Christian as feeling held in God’s arms.
All of us know the Easter story. We know in our minds that our loved ones are experiencing a new life in the resurrection. But there is a part of our hearts that still wants them here with us physically to tell us in their very subtle way answers to the questions we still are struggling with. /
What does our Tradition tell us about death? Karl Barth, Friedrich Schleiermacher, William Sloane Coffin Jr, and John Claypool all preached about the death of close family members. It is interesting how all of these towers of faith were shaken to their roots. As they looked for hope, they wrote profusely and vividly about what did not help them in their grieving. One of the universal dead end theologies for these preachers was the often-quoted phrase that the death of someone was God’s will. This is not the God of their understanding, and I know it is not yours. After the death of his son in a car accident when the car went off a bridge into the water, William Sloane Coffin preaches, “my own consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that my son die; as the waves closed over his sinking car, God’s heart was the first of all our hearts to break.” /
Lastly, what does reason tell us about death, which really means what is our own experience about grief and death. Death is not a period at the end of a sentence, but more like a comma. Some have talked about how our loved ones who had died are not only in a new relationship to God but also to us. Death changes but does not destroy our connection with those we love. We have shared experiences of knowing the presence of loved ones after they have died, doing things we knew we had never been able to do before because of some presence very near to us guiding, still caring for us. The Old Testament gives us a wonderful description of this experience. As Elijah is about to die, he asks his beloved companion, Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha responds, “ Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” You know the story. As Elijah ascends in a whirlwind into heaven, he leaves for Elisha his mantle or shawl as a sign of his spirit. That has often been our experience. Those we love but see no longer have left us a spiritual mantle that all of us here will be wearing, carrying with us, knowing that their presence with us no longer will depend on time and space.
We all have seen that shawl about each of you. I think you have felt it as well. Our prayer today is that we all will continue to feel the shawl around us, the spirit of love, endurance, humor, strength, the shawl we will carry with us as we form new Mourner’s Path groups. You will be the vessel holding these groups together, supporting them, helping them see the shawl that each of them is wearing.
May you also continue to feel the loving arms of this group and our God often silently holding you in your new journey.
Lastly, Corinthians tells us that love never dies. Love never dies. The love we have for and from their loved one is still there and never dies. I don’t understand it. It is a mystery. I know I look at pictures of my brother, my grandparents who have died and I can feel their love and in turn feel the love I have for them. Buechner and Nouwen tell us that our bodies die but the love we have for others and the love we feel from another somehow returns to God and is kept for all eternity. If you are a mystic, you have no difficulty understanding this. If you are a person who understands by rational thinking, this may be a difficult concept.
I know in my heart that the love we have for each other will never die.. I believe that in some mysterious way this love never dies and is carried forward to make a change in those who have died, in ourselves, and in the universe.
Bless each of you as you continue your ministry, a ministry you have already been doing whether you know it or not. May you continue to heal and hold others as you have helped heal and hold each of us. We give thanks and rejoice in your ministry ….and for a few more days send you out into the world with : Alleluia, Alleluia. Alleluia.
Jeffrey J. Newlin, “Standing at the Grave,” This Incomplete One, pp. 121-130.
Gary W. Charles, “The E Prayer,” Journal for Preachers, 47-50, vol. 29, no. 3, Easter 2006.
Prayer 63 In the Evening Book of Common Prayer, 833.
Thomas Long, “O Sing to Me of Heaven: Preaching at Funerals,” Journal for Preachers, 21-26, vol. 29, no. 3, Easter 2006.