Summary: For Remembrance Sunday, when we honor the memories of those who have died in the previous year: Those who suffer loss go to a better place emotionally when they cast off unproductive patterns and allow themselves time to receive unconditional love. They
There is something we say to console ourselves when
someone dies. It is a phrase I have heard over and over.
We say,“I know she is in a better place.” My friend, my
parent, my spouse has passed away, but it feels good to
think of one truth: “He is in a better place.”
By that, of course, we mean heaven; we are thinking about
what it must be like to be in a place where there is neither
sorrow nor sighing, neither sickness nor disease. In a better
place – one that is better by far than this earth, where
violence takes some, wars take many, diseases take more,
new scares like SARS intrude, and where eventually time
takes us all. We are comforted by thinking of those we love
as “in a better place”.
But my question to you today is, “Are you in a better place?”
“Are you in a better place than you were a month ago, six
months ago, a year ago, when you suffered your loss?” My
question is not about your physical location. My question is
about what sort of emotional and spiritual place you are in.
You suffered a loss; for some of you it was the loss of a
loved one. For others maybe the loss of a job. For still
others the loss of a significant relationship – a marriage that
broke up, a child that rebelled, a friend that grew cold. All
of these are huge losses that for a time disabled you and put
you down. Are you in a better place, now, after your loss?
Or it might be that your loss is more interior, something
inside your own mind and heart. You are aging, and you feel
that you are losing some of your powers; you don’t
remember things as you used to. You have been working at
your job for a long time, but it doesn’t mean much any longer;
it’s stale. You’ve lost.
Or you’ve lost out in the pecking order. You thought you had
good buddies at your school, but all of a sudden they are not
as interested in you as they once were. That’s a loss too. I
remember my daughter bursting into the house, when she
was eight or nine years old, and announcing that she had
figured out that some of the other little girls on the street only
wanted to play with her when she had a new toy. When the
toy got old, they weren’t interested in Karen any more. It
was a loss to discover that.
When you have experienced loss, how do you get into a
better place? Are you in a better spiritual place than you
were? How do you get there?
I don’t know how you picture the apostle Paul. You probably
have in your mind’s eye the image of a prolific preacher and
a profound professor of the Gospel. And you would be right,
but only half right. Because Paul, you see, was not only
preacher and teacher and missionary and author, he was
also a real human being. He had feelings and problems.
And in the course of all of those very human situations, I
believe he clued us about how to get to a better place when
we suffer loss.
I want to take you back to the beginning of what we know as
the second missionary journey. Paul had been in Jerusalem,
and life there had been good. His point of view was heard
and adopted by the Council of the church; he was riding
high. From Jerusalem Paul was sent to Antioch, along with a
delegation of others, to teach and build up the believers
there. Paul felt like he was in a very good place indeed.
But, feeling that the time had come to move on, Paul
proposed to Barnabas that they undertake another
missionary journey. That is when good things began; it is
also when some very bad things began. Paul was about to
experience some successes; but he was also about to suffer
some serious losses. Let me review these, in quick
First, Paul and Barnabas could not agree about whether to
take with them the young man Mark, who had flunked out on
a previous missionary journey. So, as a result of their
disagreement, Paul and Barnabas came to a parting of the
ways. They separated. Rather like a divorce or an
estrangement between family members. They just went their
separate ways. Paul felt that loss.
And then, as Paul and his new partner, Silas, went on their
way, they found they couldn’t do anything they had expected
to. They went to the places they intended to go, but – and
this is one of those things that is very mysterious, but here is