Summary: We take charge of reducing our grief when we first trust ourselves, then trust others in redemptive relationships, and ultimately trust God, who raised Christ from the dead.
Granger Westberg, in his little book, Good Grief, says that when you have something worth grieving about, then go ahead and grieve, but grieve in a healthy way. Westberg agrees that the Bible says, "Do not grieve as those do who have no hope", but that does not mean we do not grieve. When you have something worth grieving about, then go ahead and grieve, but in a healthy way.
That is the thinking behind the messages of last Sunday and of today. We’ve had many losses among us lately: parents, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, on and on. It feels like a heavy burden for some of us right now. But I am convinced that the Christian faith and its message of good news can be heard in times like these.
The theme is doubly appropriate today. Here we are at Halloween. Halloween is a kind of corruption of our very natural human feelings about death. The church in the middle ages began the practice of remembering those who had gone on, especially those it called saints; saints were believers who had achieved spiritual distinction, and the church wanted to remember them and appreciate them. Nothing wrong with that.
So the church designated November 1 as All Saints Day. The first day of each November was to be a day on which Christians would remember in prayerful appreciation all those who had passed before.
But this Christian observance got all mixed and mingled with pagan beliefs, so that the notion grew up that on the night before All Saints Day, or All Hallows Day, the dead emerge from their graves and the goblins and ghosts and other ghoulish things will be about. The Eve of All Hallows, or Halloween, became an ugly corruption of something that could have been beautiful. Instead of releasing our fears about death, Halloween became something which increased those fears. Instead of taking away anxiety about this awesome reality, it made anxiety worse. Instead of remembering those who had achieved spiritual distinction, Halloween and All Saints Day remembered the bizarre and the horrifying.
I hope we can recover what was originally intended. I hope we can remember, reconnect, and rejoice with the mercies of God. I hope we can turn even this most peculiar of days into something that proclaims the love of Christ.
Last week the scene was around the cross of Jesus, where several people were gathered. As your sermon outline sheet reminds you, we thought about what God will give those who grieve: how God will give us a time to remember and accept our old wounds; then how God will teach us to see each other in a new light, providing us ways to fulfill our need to care and to be cared for, to reconnect; finally, we saw that God will give us an understanding presence, for He too knows what it is to grieve, He too knows what it is to lose someone precious. Remembering, Reconnecting, and Rejoicing.
The scene today is the very same one, Jesus on the cross, with his mother, his beloved disciple, and some others. Our children are going to present the scene to us, as it might have happened:
Remembering, reconnecting, and rejoicing means taking charge of our own grief. And the instrument for taking charge of grief is trust. Trust. If you remember nothing else from today, remember that the issue is trust. We can take charge of our grief by learning to trust.
The first question is, "Can we trust ourselves?" Can we trust ourselves, once we are bereaved, to feel again? Can we get out of the notion that we have done something wrong and trust ourselves again?
Over and over, people tell me that when they lose a loved one, they confront a myriad of feelings about themselves. Often those feelings are feelings of guilt. We become preoccupied with what we didn’t do, what we didn’t say. We remember old quarrels and tough, tense moments, and feel guilty that we didn’t take care of all of everything before our loved one passed away.
Those feelings may become so strong that they paralyze us, they erode our self-confidence. We can’t do anything. We can’t seem to get anywhere. We can’t pull ourselves together. Because of our grief experience, we have, for a time, lost the ability to trust ourselves.
People sometimes have irrational feelings of guilt. Some even get to the place where deep down they think that some way, they even caused that death. Oh, in their minds they know that’s impossible, but down in the gut it still feels guilty. And feeling guilty is the same thing as not trusting yourself.
I know one person whose husband died. Years later she continues to talk about the funeral -- was it all right? About the casket -- was it tasteful? How about the choice of grave location -- do you think it is a pretty place? It sounds like guilt talking, and, to a degree, it is. But it is also the loss of trust in herself. She no longer believes in herself; she is no longer sure she can handle her own life.