Summary: Grieving healthily means remembering both positive and negative; it means connecting with others who can love us and whom we can love. In His own time God will give joy.
One of the laws of life is: To get something, you must give up something. To gain, you must also lose. We call that the tradeoff principle.
We operate on the tradeoff principle every day. When you go to the grocery store and fill your basket, they have the audacity to expect you to pay for what you get. That’s a tradeoff.
If you go to the regular grocery store, they bag your things and put them in your car for you. But you can go to the discount store, where they expect you to bring your own bag, pack up your own purchases, and get them to your car the best way you can. Now do you want service or do you want low prices? That’s a tradeoff too. To get something, you must give up something. To gain, you must also lose.
The issues of life and death also involve tradeoffs. There are things which we must give up in order to gain. There are prices we have to pay in order to receive. Our God has so created us that, even though we must die and must suffer the loss of those we love, there is also something to be gained. There is a rich recompense for the pain of our humanity.
That is what I hope to help us see through these messages, this week and next. I hope to help us see that God is working to give us something wonderful just as something precious has been taken from us. Even when we grieve our losses, there is cause for rejoicing. Our God is able to replace what we lose with something else. It is a tradeoff, yes.
Tradeoffs are a law of life. But I hope we can see that despite the pain of death, we can gain even more than we lose.
You’ve heard many times that verse, "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." I’ve had my problems with that idea. I didn’t want to think about the Lord taking away someone. And I especially didn’t want to fall into the trap of supposing that every time someone dies, whether in a terrible accident or after a long illness, that we could just shrug it of as "God’s will". I didn’t believe in a God that cruel. And I still don’t. But I do see that there is something right in the idea that the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. It’s the tradeoff principle again. We are going to lose; death is unavoidable. But, under the grace of God, we are also going to gain.
I am calling the messages this week and next, "Remembering, Reconnecting, and Rejoicing". And I am using a short, simple Scripture text, one which you have heard scores of times. But it contains precious secrets, and I hope we can reveal them together.
The passage is the little vignette, recorded in John’s Gospel, where they are standing around the foot of the cross of Jesus, just a few of them, mostly women. Stunned, I expect; pained, of course; embarrassed, for, after all, he died the death of a common criminal. And grieving. Grieving for him and for the apparent failure of all his efforts. Grieving for themselves and for the loss of his companionship. And grieving, no doubt, that such promise had come to such pain.
Listen to their simple story: John 19:25-27
Standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene and the disciple whom Jesus loved.
Who were these people? And what had they been doing before coming to this lonely spot on a sun-darkened hill?
Mary his mother. Do you remember how ecstatic she was when she learned she was to bear the Christ child? "My soul does magnify the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden ... " Like most mothers-in-waiting, a deep joy. And a solemn joy at his birth: "Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart."
But do you remember also that when she and Joseph took the child Jesus to the temple to be named, how the prophetess Anna had predicted, "A sword shall pierce through your own soul … because of this child"? And do you remember how she and her other children came to Jesus one day, determined to take him home, keep him out of trouble, so embarrassing had he become? Mary his mother; she had much to remember, not all of it pleasant.
Who else was there? Mary Magdalene. Tradition says she was a fallen woman, a woman with a past. If the suspicions be true, a woman who had tried fleshly intimacy with many men, but who found spiritual intimacy with only one, and now that one was hanging there with his life ebbing out. Mary Magdalene, remembering how her life had once been; not a pleasant memory.