It’s all around us at the moment. Often with a mask on, so that you can’t see the downturned face.
There are great griefs and small griefs and griefs that for many would be great, but for some noble souls seems bearable.
Then there are the trashy faux griefs (and ain’t there a load of those around in our outraged culture), in which somehow wearing a face mask and self-isolating for the same of others is a huge infringement on human rights. A trip to Hong Kong or North Korea might settle those griefs down.
Our church has grieved. Many churches have grieved. And members of our churches have grieved with too few to grieve alongside them. One beloved family in our congregation lost two family members and a dearly loved friend during lockdown, none of them to COVID. A reminder that everyday, vanilla kind of grief chugs on relentlessly.
Another young woman at church just having had to put her father into a locked ward with Lewy Body Dementia, the same disease that ravaged my own father. Her dad was a minister in my local area, We used to meet for coffee and prayer. It all happened so quickly. He might just about recognise me now.
The other day in the Perth’s CBD’s best cafe, the Mary Street Bakery, purveyor of all things amazing in the cake and coffee department, I bumped into a brilliant young woman I knew at the first church I worked in. She was a young teen then, now a brilliant legal mind.
We chatted. I’d seen her on Facebook. Her young son suddenly stricken with cancer, but nine months in remission. Self-isolating of course. Her dad, also a brilliant mind in his day, stricken with Parkinson’s and dementia. She’s parenting up and down. And grieving.
The conversation so at odds with the chatter, the clinking cups, the steamy hiss of coffee machines and chirpy baristas taking orders. I felt the chill of her conversation. I did what we all tend to do with the grief of others, fearfully transposing her grievous situation onto my own son’s life – onto our lives -, before batting it away with a right brained swish.
Yet we talked of other things too, as we always do in grief. One of the funniest things I ever said – (big call I know), was in the back of the funeral car with my mum and my brother, as we headed home from my great grandmothers’ funeral.
Laughing tears mixed with the mournful tears, mum shushing me and hoping against hope we didn’t stop at traffic lights so the world could see us guffawing in a cortege.
But that’s grief, right? It’s not waiting for the right time (later?) or the right place (the stuffy parlour room with dark drapes). It impinges and imposes. It interrupts and intertwines with the rest of life. We laugh during times of grief. And we grieve during times of joy.
I still remember the grief after my father died. Grief the night he died, then none for three months. One day, Wallop! Three months of deep, painful grief with my only solace (only?) the hope of the resurrection, and Sufjan Stevens’ painfully wonderful album Carrie and Lowell, about the death of his mother. I listened to that album on high rotation on Spotify, to the point my daughter bought the vinyl version.
I’m preaching 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 next week, and I’m preaching it with an eye on those within our congregation who have suffered the grief mentioned in these verses.
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
That’s astonishing isn’t it. And it’s never been something we’ve been keen in our modern times to make part of our public apologetic. We certain do what the last verse says, “encourage one another with these words”, but others?
Perhaps that’s a bridge too far. “Hey everyone, I have an antidote to hopeless grief. Jesus is returning to raise the dead!” Not sure how that would go in the office. It’s outrageous and crazy and might bring into question your promotion. But on the other hand someone might just sidle up to the you in the hallway and say “You know that death and resurrection stuff you’re talking about ..”
Yet I wonder if somehow the traditional smooth apologetics is gaining less and less traction, especially in this year of public fear and grief? What if a clunky, outrageous apologetic in which dead people come back to life, and a God comes back to sort out the world is just the tonic for the waves of grief crashing onto our modern, secular non-transcendent shores?
Grief. It’s common to our humanity. And we grieve along with the rest of humanity. That makes us the same. But we don’t grieve as the rest of humanity, because our grief has hope. And that makes us different.
That’s the space our public apologetic must sit within – the same but different.