For Those Who Mourn, Grieve or Sorrow

May those who mourn or grieve or sorrow find solace in my words.

Not long after that, Jesus went to the village Nain. His disciples were with him, along with quite a large crowd. As they approached the village gate, they met a funeral procession—a woman’s only son was being carried out for burial. And the mother was a widow. When Jesus saw her, his heart broke. He said to her, “Don’t cry.” Then he went over and touched the coffin. The pallbearers stopped. He said, “Young man, I tell you: Get up.” The dead son sat up and began talking. Jesus presented him to his mother. They all realized they were in a place of holy mystery, that God was at work among them. They were quietly worshipful—and then noisily grateful, calling out among themselves, “God is back, looking to the needs of his people!” The news of Jesus spread all through the country. (Luke 7:11-17)

We just heard about a grieving widow, whose only son died. She was beside herself with grief as her son’s body was being carried to be buried.

Burying a child is probably the worst nightmare a parent can have; the child that they birthed, nourished, watched as they explored the world, dried their tears when they fell or had disappointments.

In the time of Jesus, if a woman was a widow, it was expected that the male child would support her for the rest of her life. There was no social security for widows and orphans league, no food banks of WIC programs to support her. And now her beloved son, and only child and means of support was dead.

Jesus saw the grief in the mother’s eyes and knew what the future held for her, and took pity on her. This is one of only three raisings from the dead that Jesus performed while he was on earth: Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter and the widow’s son.

Each time Jesus chose to perform this greatest miracle, He showed his compassion for the living.

The last three weeks Karen and I have spent a large amount of time in Chicago at the side of a dear friend. On 18 May, her husband, also a dear friend, suffered a massive stroke which basically destroyed most of the left side of his brain. His right arm was useless and there was strong concern that his speech and comprehension was significantly disabled. Rick was a musician, one of the old kind who specialized in folk music, a fantastic guitarist, singer and banjo player. He was known in the Chicago area as well as regionally for his concerts and various duos and ensembles. And now, if he survived, that would all be gone. His life would probably consist of a life in wheelchair in a semi-vegetative state. We needed to make a decisions whether to save the BODY through surgery or put the destiny of the MAN Henri had loved for over twenty years in the hands of God.

We can all hope and pray that we never have to make that decision about someone we love.
After many tears and praying and discussion with friends, the decision was made to put it in God’s hands.

You see, Rick had never been a very religious man until the past few years. Henrietta was active in a local Lutheran church and slowly Rick became involved and a vibrant member of that community. He had joined the believers. So, we and he knew that death was not the end, but the beginning.

It was an excruciating two weeks, staying by his bedside in hospice, making sure that he was comfortable, watching the body go through the changes leading to death. A community of friends were there, supporting as they could, but that could not take away the pain, the self-doubt at stopping medical intervention, the sadness for Rick’s future and the loss of his vibrant and creative life to the world.

Rick’s soul left this earthly plane last Sunday, while Karen was in Chicago with Henrietta and I was preaching at Saint John’s Worthington.

Unlike the widow of Nain, there was no Jesus raising Rick from the dead –

    or was there?

We are promised that if we love Jesus, we are saved by the grace of God, that we are all welcomed into the heavenly kingdom.

We believe that, as Jesus promised, those of us who believe and follow the path of Jesus are raised from the dead! We are promised in John 14:2

In my father’s house are many rooms. . . I am going there to prepare a place for you . . . that where I am, there you may be also

And so we know, although Rick is not walking with us here on earth, he has risen to a greater kingdom and will be there to greet each of us when our time comes.

We will still mourn and grieve for Rick for the rest of our lives; that will not change with the knowledge that he is in a better place. But even today, we know that he is still alive in our hearts and memories: his songs, his jokes, his smile and twinkling eyes, his openness and love to all he met.

And always will be.

The man that we knew and loved as a vibrant musician, wonderful friend and devoted husband is in our hearts. And he is whole and vital and strumming and plucking in the Kingdom we can only dream of.

He has risen.

And as each of us struggles with the certain reality of death – our own or of those we love – we can and must trust that what Jesus promised is true and that this time on earth is a wonderful, complex, changing joyful time of sharing and learning in return for our humanity; in preparation for our return to our Heavenly Father in eternal life hereafter. Amen.
Delivered at Saint Philip Episcopal Church, Circleville, OH 9 June 2013

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