Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
Lazarus is dead. And those around him are grieving. Even Jesus pauses to weep today.
Our gospel story of loss and grief is profoundly resonant for what we are living through. Because we are living through and experiencing grief. Grief doesn’t happen only when there’s a death…grief happens any time we experience a significant loss…so because death is a gigantic loss it naturally gives rise to grief, but any loss can unloose grief. Loss of material objects…including those places—like church—that we used to be able to go…loss of relationships…including all of those people we never really knew, but were used to seeing and being around…the barista…the crossing guard…the coworker…and there is what professionals call “intrapsychic loss”…which includes the loss of an image of ourselves…as invulnerable, maybe? or as ready for anything?…or as able to do things that we can no longer do…It also includes the loss of future possibilities…the loss of plans…the dying of a dream…In our house, there are awful lot of plans…personal and professional…that are precariously on hold…or that I and our family have simply had to say goodbye to…and I know I’m not alone in that. The same is true of this parish…and that causes uncertainty…it also causes grief.
But I also know we are experiencing grief not simply just because I can look around and see plenty of cause for grief…I know we are a people in grief, because I can feel it. Having lived through numerous losses in my life, I know what grief feels like…in my body…and I am grieving.
Some signs that I recognize…maybe these are familiar to you as well. I find myself going through my day…frequently aware of how unreal everything seems. The world is…somehow…continuing….but something deep and fundamental has changed…something is gone. It’s uncanny. I have trouble concentrating…My work flow is completely off…I have trouble remembering what day it is…it feels like there are 10,000 new things that have to be learned and at least as many—if not more—decisions that need to be made…and my capacity for making decisions feels incredibly limited. My horizon for planning and forecasting the future extends to about the next meal. My priorities are immediate…and short term…self-care…pastoral care…communication. The whole world feels smaller…more constrained…more boxed in…
Grief is not a single emotion, it’s a complex of deep and difficult emotions…and it affects everyone a little differently…this is how it affects me…your mileage may vary. It is a natural and very normal response to significant loss…any significant loss. So where Mary and Martha and all the disciples and even Jesus are in this gospel today…is right where we are too. They are grieving…and so are we. We are a people…a nation…a world…enshrouded in grief.
Here’s another thing I know about grief…It must be honored…It must be given time and space and a name. Grief denied is dangerous…grief ignored becomes toxic. As painful as it is, grief is an invitation…it is the beginning of a process of transformation. Good Friday always comes before Easter…and those who remain at the foot of the cross weeping…and those who in their grief make their way to the tomb in the morning are the first to see the risen Christ…I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Because grief opens the portal for transformation. Lazarus—in order to be raised—has to die, and those gathered around have to grieve. Is this why Jesus delayed? Because he knows the experience of grief is so important? Maybe. He even joins in and weeps along with them…in a sense sanctifying the process of grief.
Of course there are those who reject grief…”Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Why do we have to go through this? It’s hard, no doubt, but loss is part of life…and when we reject grief it’s often because we want to cling to the world as it was…the world we have lost…but that world is not coming back…clinging to it will only be frustrating.
What the gospel teaches us today, and what our Christian story proclaims, is that opening ourselves to grief…accepting the losses…absorbing and metabolizing the pain…is how we are able to imagine and see the new future God is holding out to us…in the words of one author, grief, “teaches us to re-examine [the] core values of our world, to reject those that emphasize permanence and self-sufficiency for values that allow us to be open to change and find new connections with others.” (Grieving: A Beginners’ Guide, McCormack, Jerusha Hull, source). And isn’t that where we find ourselves today? Opening to change…and discovering new and more meaningful connections with others—especially with those most affected by the devastation this pandemic and the economic downturn will cause. God is already preparing a future for us…holding it open for us…beckoning us to follow…
So what I believe we need to do now…today…is exactly what our gospel tells us…we need to pause… “wait for the Lord”…and open ourselves up to and name the grief we are experiencing. Name it and do what you need to do to honor it. Write a poem…write a song…paint a picture…scrawl it on the sidewalk in chalk…stay open…stay honest…talk to your trusted group those two or three people who you know you can count on no matter what…when you feel up to it reach out to others…those five or six people who can count on you to be there for them. Follow Bishop Alan’s advice. This week he wrote in a pastoral letter to all of us, “Keep it simple. Focus on what matters most. Pace yourself for the long haul. Be patient, with yourself and with one another. Be genuine. Be generous. Be grateful. Love one another. Spare a word to the lonely. Contribute to the neediest among us. Lean on God and pray.”
I know the world is anxious and chaotic and changing rapidly right now…but we need not rush headlong with it…because we know…as Jesus did that day in Bethany…that death and loss is not the end…Easter always comes…and with God all things are possible.
But even knowing that…Jesus doesn’t rush through the grief. He stops…he weeps…he acknowledges it…opens himself up to it and participates in it…encourages others to participate in it…because it’s necessary…it’s important…because the work of grief…accepting and mourning all our losses…brings new vision, and new possibilities…grief is a gateway to the transformation of the world…it is the necessary work we do that will allow us to hear God calling us out of our tombs…out of the constraints of the lost world that we cling to…it is the work that will provide us with the energy to unbind ourselves and others when the time comes.