Pete Scazzero tells the story of a young woman of a different faith who attended the funeral of a Christian co-worker and found herself asking as they spoke of the celebration of life and it was a time of celebration and not mourning Are these people for real? Do they have any emotions at all?
Scazzero goes on to say that when she sat at lunch the next day with another acquaintance who was also Christian, she expressed her anger and frustration at what she had seen and heard “Don’t you people cry and mourn? I don’t get it! Are you people human beings at all?”
Some of us perhaps are now wanting to argue with the young woman. “Well if she was a Christian and because she was she is not suffering anymore and is in the presence of Jesus why not celebrate?!” And that would be true.
But this young woman’s frustration at the lack of grieving and mourning does make a point.
What do we do with grief? And not just grief that comes when the death of someone we love occurs.
Some of our greatest grief comes with the death of a relationship as through divorce or the sudden end of a friendship or serious relationship.
The death of a dream, of a life goal, causes great grief. Just as painful as the death of a person.
The late Thomas Merton is quoted as saying, “People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.” When that happens, grief is part of that realization.
(And I think that you could substitute the word ‘success’ for ‘parenting’ or ‘studying’ or ‘practicing’ and make the same point.)
Some people argue that the very essential language and practice of mourning and grieving is lacking in today’s Christianity. Instead it is always about sunshine and joy and good things.
“But Pastor, we are to rejoice and be glad! Jesus has forgiven us of our sins! We are to celebrate that fact!”
You’re right, we are.
But Jesus, as Isaiah foretells centuries before His coming to earth, was also something else and our main text for this morning tells us what that was as we read Isaiah 3:5
He was despised and rejected—
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care.
As we prepare for communion this morning, our focus should naturally turn toward Christ’s death, and, praise God, His resurrection. But it was not a joyful time for Jesus. Some found great joy, a very perverse joy, in making and watching Jesus suffer like He did.
Let us hear Matthew’s account of Jesus’ final moments as He hung on the cross. They reflect Isaiah’s painful portrait:
Matthew 27 verses 32 to 46
Along the way, they came across a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. And they went out to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”). The soldiers gave Jesus wine mixed with bitter gall, but when he had tasted it, he refused to drink it.
After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. Then they sat around and kept guard as he hung there. A sign was fastened above Jesus’ head, announcing the charge against him. It read: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.
The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery. “Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, if you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross!”
The leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders also mocked Jesus. “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! So he is the King of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross right now, and we will believe in him! He trusted God, so let God rescue him now if he wants him! For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” Even the revolutionaries who were crucified with him ridiculed him in the same way.
At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care.
Have you ever had someone, if not literally but figuratively turn their back on you and not care? That the relationship has suddenly ended. (And sometimes, relationships need to suddenly end for very right and necessary reasons.)
What do you feel?
Anger. Rage. Terrible emotional pain.
What about grief?
What do people these days do with these emotions?
They numb themselves through either drugs or alcohol or an increasing work load or through stuffing themselves with food.
They stuff their feelings and allow them to go underground and eventually undermine their lives as a whole host of things grow deep within and their lives and character begin to collapse from unresolved grief.
They isolate themselves from others. They put on a face that says “everything is fine!” but it isn’t and they grow further and further away from others, their friends, their family, even themselves and God. Layer after layer of isolation hardens to emotional concrete and they are trapped within themselves.
What’s the answer?
First of all, I think that because there are widely different situations we all face with our unresolved grief, I cannot and I will not give a blanket answer. But there are a couple of things that I think are basic to helping us grieve well.
- Stop denying the pain and loss.
In His encounter with a grieving Mary and Martha as He faced the closed tomb of their dead brother Lazarus, Jesus did something…
John 11:35 “…Jesus wept.”
Would Jesus be told today by some of us in this sanctuary, “Stop that Jesus! You shouldn’t feel that way?” Would He be told that by many Christians today?
“Jesus, there isn’t time for that. Work calls. We have to get to Jerusalem. Hurry up and get Lazarus back to life. We have a schedule to keep. We cannot be here all day!”
I have always been puzzled by verse 33
When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled.
Why was Jesus angry?
The traditional answer has something to do with the lack of faith and belief Jesus was seeing around Him. But a well-known preacher of another generation, BB Warfield, writes this:
“It is death that is the object of his wrath, and behind death him who has the power of death, and whom he has come into the world to destroy. Tears of sympathy may fill his eyes, but this is incidental. His soul is held by rage: and he advances to the tomb, in Calvin’s words again, “as a champion who prepares for conflict.”
Very good points made here and in light with Christ’s coming to earth to finally defeat sin and death and hell.
But I suggest this morning that Jesus is grieving too. He is grieving that death still has power and is still at work in human existence. I also think that He grieved at the lack of faith as well.
And I cannot help but feel that He grieved as a human would grieve. He grew up in a culture where grieving was done.
It is okay to grieve. It is okay to mourn. It is okay to cry and express the anguish of losing someone or something. Or the grief which comes when something happens and life and/or a relationship changes forever.
Jesus, I think, grieved at a deeply agonizing level on the cross as He uttered the words “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”
I do not remember which funeral it was now but I remember walking into the room to begin the funeral service and sensing lots of love as well as grief and sorrow.
We really grieve what we really love. That’s why when a marriage, a parent-child relationship, or a long-time friendship ends either through death or conflict, there is a lot of pain.
Or when a dream job fails to take place or we are either laid-off or terminated from it, there is sometimes, sometimes, a grieving that takes place.
Or when our kids leave home and go out on their own, there is grieving. (Or some grieving when they move back home, too!)
Or when a beloved pastor or other church leader leaves, either well or not so well, a congregation grieves.
Or when we realize the passing of time and that we grieve the passing of that time and place and feel like strangers in this time and place.
Conflict, whether it is correctly resolved or not, causes grief because it creates a change that affects all involved.
What is it that you need to grieve these days?
I ask this question not to shame or guilt anyone. Nor do I ask it to depress us. Some of us are already dealing with some depression because of grief.
Jesus Christ understood grief because He was acquainted with grief. He experienced grief.
Bring your grief to the Lord this morning, He will walk with you through your grief, no matter if it is current grief or grief in the past. He will help you with your grief.
Grief is a part of life but it does not have the last word. Jesus does!
Thanks be to God for that.