Grief, Hope, and the Saints

A Homily for All Saints

Texts: Revelation 7:9-17; St. Matthew 5:1-12

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the first-born from among the dead who calls all the saints into new and everlasting life. Amen.

Grief shows up at the strangest of times, doesn’t it? It sneaks up months after the tears stop, years after the funeral. Sure, there are the occasions we expect to be hard, the anniversaries and holidays. We might brace for how difficult Thanksgiving or a birthday may be, but then grief catches us unawares on a random Tuesday. A simple smell may remind you of your grandparents’ home, and suddenly you remember weeping at the graveside as a child. Or walking through a park, the particular shade of a flower reminds you of your late husband’s favorite shirt, and the pain feels as fresh as the day he died. After a long day, you reach for the phone to call a friend who could always tell a joke to make you smile, was always there to listen to you complain, always offered good advice – only to remember she died three years ago, and all of a sudden, the wound is reopened.

There’s no rhyme or reason for it, nothing you can do to prevent it. Grief is normal, but it feels so isolating and hurts so much. I cannot tell you how many people have said, “Pastor, I know it shouldn’t hurt so much after all this time,” but of course it does! And the closer the person was to you, the longer and more painful it will be. Yes, it’s normal, yes, it’s expected, no you shouldn’t just get over it, but it still hurts.

Too often, the expectation is that we’ll be back to normal in a month – that we can hide our grief behind aphorisms about “their time” and “being in a better place” and “God just needing another angel” all while getting on with our lives – but this does nothing to address the gaping whole left behind, of the pain we feel deep down as our hearts break anew.

When Christ promises blessing and comfort to those who mourn, it is not some petty aphorism designed to gloss over the pain. No, it meets us where we are. It recognizes and confronts the reality of our grief.

In the miracle of his Incarnation, our Lord entered into this world – really, truly, and fully. He lived among us as one of us, and this means that he endured the same suffering and pain as us. We might speculate about whether in his early life Jesus mourned for deceased grandparents, favorite aunts or uncles, whether he wept with neighbors as they mourned the loss of a child– while first century mortality rates suggest it would be a near certainty, Scripture is silent on the matter. But what we do see in the Gospels is Jesus meeting those who are sick, who have been cast out, those who are disabled, those who are grieving. He entered into houses full of tears. We see Christ himself weep over his friend’s tomb. Our Lord knows our pain, has shared our grief; he does not dismiss our tears, does not tell us to just get over it, to move on, to put it behind us, but rather wipes them away with the glorious promise of new life.

This is not some mere empty promise about a vague “better place” or adjusting to a “new normal.” No, in the Gospels we see the blessing promised in the Beatitudes breaking into this world like a blade of grass piercing through concrete, proof of green life beneath the grey, barren slab. Time and again, the Evangelists show us Christ meeting suffering with healing and wholeness, restoring sight to the blind, mobility to the infirm, and life to those who have died.

But even those wondrous miracles pale in comparison to what coming, when the graves shall empty and the sea shall give up its dead, and death will be vanquished forever, when pain and grief shall pass away with all former things. On the first day of the week, our Lord passed over from death to life, the first born from among the dead, never to die again. This is the ultimate comfort for us who mourn.

And we, through the waters of Baptism, have been joined to that promise with all the saints. In these waters, we are joined to Christ’s death that we may die to sin and death and rise with Christ on the last day.

Assured of new and everlasting life by the grace of God poured out upon us in these waters, we look with eager expectation to that day when we will gather around the Altar of the Lamb with the martyrs and saints and all the faithful departed, singing the hymn of the Church Triumphant:

Blessing and glory and wisdom
And thanksgiving and honor
And power and might
Be to our God forever!

And in that restored creation, when death passes away, and hunger is no more, our Lord will gently wipe away all our tears.

Amen. Amen. Amen.

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