Rev. Sarah Buteux
November 3, 2019
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Blessed Are Those Who Mourn
Luke 6:20-31 All Saints Year C
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Luke 6:21
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4
O God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight. May they bring the comfort we long for. May they be the words we need to hear. Amen.
Margery, Paul, Robin, Cammi,… some of these names are being read for the first time today and the pain we feel as the chime rings for them is as cold and bright as a new blade. It is a grief so sharp, it hurts to hold their names on our tongues.
Others are names that have remained on our lips, in our hearts, and in our prayers for years now, because although the edges of our grief have softened, the loss remains as deep and wide and real as ever.
And so we ask the pastor to say their names year after year after year and will continue to do so until the day we die… until the day when our names are read, and someone else preforms this last act of love for us…
Because that is what it is to remember, on this day of all days. That is what it is to speak the name of those we mourn.
It is an act of love, a work of love, a labor of love.
And I want you to know, as I look out at you this morning, that I see how hard some of you are working just to be here right now.
I have some sense of how hard it was to come to church today, indeed how hard it has been to come to church these past few months…to come knowing that people you loved and who loved you won’t be here to greet you or sing for you or lean on you or take care of you or check in on you or just sit next to you, the way they once did.
It’s hard. It’s really, really hard.
I’ve been thinking about what a beautiful thing it is to be part of a community – especially a faith community – how precious it is to be able to sink down roots, maybe raise children, live, and work alongside people you respect and enjoy.
But I’ve also been coming to realize – especially as I talk with those of you who have called this church home for many years now – that the longer you remain in any one place, the more the world and the church change around you…so much so that there comes a point when you look around and you realize that even if there are more bodies in the pews, in your heart there are more people missing than present.
Betty, you’ve been worshipping here for over 90 years. I bet you can name more people who aren’t here anymore than who are. Relax. I’m not going to make you do that. But that has to be hard.
It’s wonderful to see someone new find the church and sit where, say, Peggy Anderson used to sit, but seeing them in that spot makes you miss Peggy all the more.
I know how much I miss Dana every time the organ plays – and she’s not dead, she’s just retired. But I also know how much she missed Janet every time she slid on to that bench and rested her fingers on the keys.
Every now and then something beautiful grows out of our loss, like Dave Ames coming back to church after his father’s funeral. And for some of us, Dave fills the void his Dad left behind so well that more often than not, I think I call him Bill. I do that, don’t I? I’m so sorry about that.
But the reality for Dave and for those of you who knew his father well, is that Dave doesn’t fill the void Bill left behind. Instead, Dave comes and he holds the space his Dad once filled, that sacred space where the memory of his Dad still resides.
Dave, you can’t come in here and not think of your father and mother, can you? No.
Some of you can’t come in here and not think of your partner, your child, your siblings, your friend. A place like this becomes both haunted and holy, holding within its walls memories so visceral you “can feel the brush of angel’s wings,” …the presence of saints we have loved long since and lost awhile, that great cloud witnesses we read about in the book of Hebrews, and it gets to you.
Most days we remember them quietly. We might cry softly when a particular hymn is sung or verse of scripture is read. We might move into the shadows of the sanctuary or slip out a little early if the feelings threaten to overwhelm us. Or we might just swallow hard and soldier on, because that is what so many of us have been taught to do lest we, “make a scene.”
But I will tell you that some of the holiest moments we have experienced as a congregation this year have come because people were able to grieve openly among us.
I’m thinking of last year’s Blue Christmas service when over 60 people came to share about their loss. It’s a service for people who aren’t feeling merry and bright, a service for people who long to celebrate Christmas, but can only do so in a minor key.
And I know it sounds like the most depressing theme for a Common Ground you could ever imagine, 4 days before Christmas no less. But I saw people walk into that room barely able to stand because the grief they were carrying was so incredibly heavy. And yet, as they lit candles and shared the stories they couldn’t share anywhere else, I watched broken people find the strength to hold one another up.
I met Patty and Bob that night for the first time. They came out to light a candle for Bob’s wife; for Patty’s mom. It was their first time here, but because of the love in that room, it has not been the last.
I saw Christine, a widow of one month wrap her arms around a woman whose wife had been gone for just two days. I don’t think anyone else could have helped you two/those women in that moment and yet they were able to comfort each other.
A man shared about losing his young son to an overdose and then one of our own shared about losing her cat, and I have to tell you, my heart caught in my throat at that moment. Because although I know there is no way to measure loss and that that Dawn’s cat was like her child, he didn’t know that, and I was afraid that he might leave angry or offended.
Instead, that father walked forward, put his hand on her shoulder and said, “the one thing my son left us was his cat, and my wife and I say all the time that it’s the cat more than anyone else who has helped us get through.”
That service was hard, but it was holy.
As was Easter morning. That was the day, after a long battle with cancer, that we finally lost Denise. We found out right before church started and decided to let people know during the prayer time. Todd preached a sermon about the women weeping at the tomb, which felt appropriate for all those who knew what was going on.
But Joanne, Denise’s best friend, hadn’t heard the news yet. She’d come straight to church from her work as a nurse. She was sitting right up there in the pews, and when I let everyone know that Denise had died that morning, a wail ripped from Joanne’s body like nothing I’d ever heard.
Immediately hands reached out and arms wrapped themselves around her. You held her as we prayed, and as she cried, it was as if she was crying for us all. Her grief was right and good. And I don’t know, maybe it made some people who were visiting uncomfortable, cause you know, we do get some visitors on Easter Sunday, but her sobs, as she mourned her friend, were the truest, holiest thing spoken that morning.
And I think of Barbara’s funeral and the eulogy given by her son Robin. Robin told us that his mom never cried. She was one of the most compassionate, attentive, thoughtful people I have ever known. That women seeded so much goodness and care into the world that people were still receiving messages of encouragement from her on their phones or in the mail even after she died.
But Barbara never cried, not even when her husband Norm passed.
I didn’t know any of this until the funeral, but Robin told us that when Barbara was just a little girl she had an accident and lost an eye. Her parents got her to Boston Children’s hospital but couldn’t afford to stay with her. And so, as a little child, she was left alone and in pain for days.
But the worst of it all was that the doctors and nurses told her she was not allowed to cry at all or she would not heal. And so she didn’t. Not then. And then not ever.
Thanks to the book of Revelation, we often talk about heaven as that place where all of our tears will be wiped away, where grief and crying will be no more.
But Robin spoke of heaven as the place where his mom could hopefully now be her whole self, a place where she is healed enough to feel and express anything and everything she needs to.
A place where she can cry if she feels like crying, not because crying, mourning, grieving feels good, but because being true to ourselves, being real, claiming the space to feel what we really feel, is good. It is good for the soul.
Even “Jesus wept.” I think most of you know that. He wept at the death of his friend Lazarus. And it was Jesus who said, “blessed are those who mourn.” “Blessed are you who weep now for you will laugh.” Or, as it is expressed in this morning’s translation: “How content you become when you weep with complete brokenness, for you will laugh with unrestrained joy.”
I don’t think I need to parse any of that out for you.
I think all I really need to say to you this morning is that your feelings are real and living in denial of them won’t make them go away. Your feelings are real and they deserve a place here in the church. Your grief, your anger, your doubt, your pain: God is big enough to hold all of it, and here in the church, I pray we will always be big enough to hold it too.
“Grief is love’s souvenir.” says Glennon Doyle. “It’s our proof that we once loved. Grief is the receipt we wave in the air that says to the world: Look! Love was once mine. I love well. Here is my proof that I paid the price.”
Your tears are your proof that you loved well.
Your grief is proof that you paid the price.
All I really need you to know today, my friends, is that you don’t have to pay it alone.
When we walked out of the church after Barbara’s funeral it was raining: a good old fashioned summer downpour, a healing, cleansing rain. Robin told me afterward that he believed the rain was a sign from heaven that his mom could finally cry.
May God grant you the grace, if ever you need it, to cry here….to cry too. Amen