By Minister Judy Stack
“Maybe we should start a grief support group….”
“Which people in our community would that serve? Who is grieving a loss, do you think?”
“We’re all grieving.”
This conversation between Pastor Jeff and myself happened a few days before the death of John Wicklund, so it seems even more acutely true now than before. But even for those who are not as deeply affected by the loss of John, the truth remains: We are all grieving.
Grief is a tricky thing.
Whether it’s the death of a loved one, the end of marriage, the loss of a career, a broken relationship, a move away from a place you felt was home….each loss has a socially acceptable timetable for feeling and expressing pain. A time when everyone expects you to be sad and people are supportive.
But our actual grief doesn’t follow a predictable timeline. After the acceptable time of mourning, grief often flows under the surface, unseen by others who assume we are “over it,” its presence sometimes unrecognized even by us who grieve. It seems gone or dormant, only to bubble up at unexpected times and places, catching us off guard and reopening wounds with fresh pain—or even pain we didn’t dare to feel in the early days of our grief.
November begins with All Saints Day, a day when we remember and celebrate all those believers who have died. It is a day of commemoration and celebration, but it is also a day of mourning. A day when we intentionally excavate our buried grief, when we revisit all that is yet unhealed in our pain and anger and feelings of loss. We take off the band-aid. We look at the wound. We maybe even peel off the scab and let it bleed again, because wounds that aren’t allowed to bleed a bit are more prone to infection.
But of course our lives and the church calendar march on, and November does not linger forever in the pain of grief.
November ends—and the church calendar year ends—with “Christ the King Sunday.” This is the Sunday when we celebrate the fact that Christ has, in his resurrection, conquered all the powers of sin and death and that he will eventually return and reign on earth, bringing in the Kingdom of God fully. We celebrate that, while grief and pain and loss are all too poignant realities right now, they will not have the last word. Their power is broken.
The Apostle Paul comforts and encourages the believers in Corinth that Christ’s reign has begun and will be complete when “the last enemy to be destroyed is death” and all people are resurrected at Christ’ coming. Then, as the writer of Revelation says, God will dwell with us here on an earth cleansed from all that causes suffering, and God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:4).
So, blessed are you who mourn, for you shall be comforted. Whether you mourn an actual death of a loved one or suffer the pain of another kind of loss and grief, God will not leave you here forever. God’s love and compassion will win. God's love, not death and suffering, will reign eternally for us and for the world. This hope, this trust, this confidence in the power of God's love for us--and the dead and for the world--carries us forward into the new year and into that new reality.