Grief’s Journey

To live in this world

you must be able

to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it

against your bones knowing

your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go. – Mary Oliver

 

I laid my “little” brother to rest this week. The truth is, Daniel grew to be physically bigger than me pretty fast. The truth is, in many ways the legacy Daniel leaves, I suspect, also outsizes me in so many ways. I say this not out of jealousy, but respect.

Having stood at the graves of our youngest brother, mother, and father together, I noted the solitariness of standing at his. Not that I was not surrounded by lots of loving people, especially my wife and son. Yet, there was a notable void. The grieving begins. I know it is a journey I can walk with others, but must do, in some way, alone.

The journey of grief has many dimensions and waypoints. It is filled with emotions, memories, tears, and even a little anger at times. I know this, because I have watched you all grieve your losses. I also know that grief is a journey that has a destination. God’s call will be to keep walking until mourning turns to dancing; until tears are, most often, replaced with laughter. I am on my way to letting go, as Mary Oliver puts it.

To avoid getting stuck at some rest stop of sadness along the way requires hope. Hope is a grace I cannot manufacture or purchase. It is a gift. Paul says,  “And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5) Hope given through Christ and his death and resurrection is the only way to make the journey.

It is the odd lot of a preacher to have to preach at a loved one’s funeral. There is always a sense in which the preacher is preaching to him/herself, but it is particularly true in this sense. One of the things I said to myself as many listened was that I am not satisfied with the insipid means of dealing with death to which many cling.

I am not satisfied to hear that “it was all God’s plan. God called your brother home.” I don’t believe in that kind of puppeteer god. Death came to my brother because of disease and a world where death is unavoidable. God weeps at my brother’s death.

I am not satisfied with the notion that my brother’s “immortal soul” is now loose in some kind of ethereal existence, united with other souls all living as they did, except they cannot eat, drink, embrace or enjoy God’s creation. As Jurgen Moltmann said, “Immortality of the soul is an opinion. Resurrection of the dead is history.”

I am not satisfied to hear that I will see my brother again just as he was in a place I can’t find. I want to see my brother as God made him to be, body renewed, spirit strong and freed of whatever demons possessed him (and we all have them). I want to see his joy at being relieved of every regret and forgiven every misdeed.

My hope is built on resurrection – a physical, getting up from the ashes, embraceable body that is redeemed and renewed along with all the groaning earth and every human we have loved and hated. My hope is that I will not just be united by memory or spirit, but that we will once again eat a perfectly medium rare steak and hug each other with a brotherly embrace that tries to out squeeze the other.

With this hope, I expect I will journey through the tears to laughter; that I will take my time to mourn and share a time to laugh; that I will let it go and let God do what God does.

Pax Christi,

Tim Olson, Lead Pastor

 

copyright © 2019 Timothy V. Olson

 

 

New Heaven, New Earth

During the season of Easter (which lasts into June, not just one Sunday), we will gather in worship under the theme New Heaven, New Earth. This image set the tone in the very first reading of scripture we heard as Easter dawned. “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.” (Isaiah 65:17)

This new creation is evidenced in all four of the gospels as they tell of the resurrection. Each state that the women went to the tomb “on the first day of the week” either very early, or while still dark. The language launches us backward to the opening verses of Genesis where creation begins on the first day of the week in chaos and darkness. A new creation is happening in the resurrection of Jesus.

New Heaven SquareWhat this new creation is all about is anticipated in other places. Isaiah sees the end to violence and lives lived in oppression; a creation where wolf and lamb peacefully coexist (Isaiah 65); where swords are beaten into plowshares (Isaiah 2:4); where all the nations of the world are gathered in peace at the feast table of the Lord. (Isaiah 25).

In 2 Peter 3:13, we hear of a world where God’s agenda of peace justice and righteousness are the norm and standard: But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”

Perhaps the most compelling vision of the promise of God’s creative activity is in the last book of the New Testament. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more…  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1,3-5)

So, how do we respond to these visions and proclamations of a “new heaven, and a new earth?” On the one hand, if you love life the way it is and hope that heaven is simply a continuation of all that already is, this word of newness can be unsettling. We humans hate change and the loss of control. It sounds like lots of change beyond our control. It is.

One of the spiritual challenges of faith is to always be discontent with the status quo. I am not who I shall be, and certainly not what God calls me to be. The world may seem comfortable in front of my TV watching Netflix, as I much snacks I don’t need. But that patina of comfort and success is very, very thin. It rubs away with even a tiny amount of reflection and spiritual elbow grease. My comfort is often at someone else’s expense. My “happiness” is a mask for the anxiety, pain, and trouble boiling beneath. I’ve just gotten good at denying it.

If we are aware of suffering – our own and the world’s, then these images of a new heaven & earth might make us throw up our hands in joyous dependence and passively wait for God to just get ‘er done. I can surrender to my helplessness and wait for God to install the big fix.

The truth is that this new creation is already begun. In the resurrection of Jesus, God began the process of pulling, pushing, recreating us and everything into something new. The signs of that new creation are all around us if we look. When healing happens – new creation. When peace triumphs over war and violence – new creation. When tears are wiped away and mourning turns to dancing – new creation is already here.

That said, the new creation is not yet a fulfilled reality. We are living in the already/not yet of God’s new heaven and new earth. That means we are anything but passive. We have seen verified the veracity, the truth, of the vision of a new heaven and new earth resurrection. Knowing how the future will unfold, what the outcome is, we become active in anticipation of a new heaven and new earth that will triumph over the brokenness of this world.

We are to live as joyful malcontents. Malcontent because we are dissatisfied with every rotten and stinking thing about this world and refuse to accept it as normal. Joyous because we know how the story ends. Our ethics and moral values are shaped by the future vision of peace, justice, healing, life, and everything else shown in the vision of a new earth and heaven. We wait, not passively, but actively bringing about and proclaiming God’s new creation. We are part of the process of creating a new heaven and new earth.

Pax Christi, Tim Olson

 

copyright © 2019, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Why is Holy Week Important?

Last Sunday, we began worship waving palms as we remembered Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.  We, like the crowds, were all for him.  He is our guy we proclaim!  He is the one who will bring the Romans down.  He will bring us freedom.  He would change the world.  The days of oppression will be behind us. How fickle the crowds can be.  Human behavior today isn’t any different.  Our support for a leader can falter depending how the wind blows.  We prefer to follow the crowd than to think for ourselves, and so the festivity of welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem leads to a different kind of kingship than the people envisioned.

dali st john crossThis Sunday, we will celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord.  Churches will be filled as we worship the risen Christ who overcomes death’s grip and gives us life.  On Sundays we celebrate.  Every Sunday is a little Easter.  But what happens during the rest of this holiest of weeks, from the waving of the palms until the singing of Alleluia’s, looks a bit different.  From Monday – Friday, Pastor Tim, Travis and I might be with people who experience hardship caused by lack of financial resources.  This week I spoke with a woman who is unable to pay her utility bill due to her husband’s health problems.  She cannot work as stress has stripped her of an appetite and she has lost 30 pounds causing her to be drastically underweight and aggravating her muscle disease.   Recent weeks paint a picture of our church building filled with grieving families as a loved one is laid to rest.   Other times we may be visiting people who are in the hospital, nursing facilities or people at home dealing with chronic illness or facing death.

Your own experiences may see a week that is filled with joys and sorrows.  Sometimes we wonder, “Where are you God?” in the midst of the chaos, stress, relationship issues.  It is then that we realize we can’t do life by ourselves.

Holy Week shows us another side of God.  On Maundy Thursday, Jesus, aware that his closest friends will abandon him in the coming hours, eats a Passover Dinner with them.  It is an intimate meal where he shares bread and a cup, filled with love for each person present.  He takes this opportunity to teach them since he knows his time is short.  Jesus takes a towel, ties it around his waist, and washes the feet of each disciple.  This is a job that is normally designated to the slave in the household; not a leader, not a teacher.  So, Jesus teaches them what love looks like, and how love acts.  Then, on Good Friday, Jesus shows that love on the cross.  The crowds and even his closest friends are gone.  Hanging on the cross Jesus suffers humiliation, pain, and isolation from God.  According to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus cries the words of Psalm 22, “My God, My God why have your forsaken me!”  Soon it is finished; breath is no longer needed.  Death has come and his body is prepared, wrapped and placed in a new tomb.  Saturday is a day of silence, rest.  We hear nothing from God.  But God is at work in God’s way.

I find solace in a Savior who knows and experiences life as I do. I trust a Savior who understands human emotions, who knows humiliation. I need a Savior who experiences pain and suffering; a Savior who understands isolation and rejection; a Savior who understands me with all my quirks; a Savior who even questions and doubts God the Father’s presence; a Savior who died in all his humanness, but also will rise because he is God.  I find consolation in knowing that as I experience the highs and lows of life, and all that comes with it, I am convinced that nothing can separate me from the love of God – not suffering, dying or death, because Jesus, God incarnate, has been there and has risen.  I am convinced that I have a Savior who loves me, more than I can ever love him back.  I need Jesus each day of the week, not just on Sunday, because Jesus is about life everyday. Jesus gets right down in the trenches of everyday life and lives it with me.  I meet Jesus much more in the suffering and challenges of life than I may even be aware.  Holy Week shows me a different kind of Jesus, that’s one reason Holy Week is important.

In Christ, Pastor Pam Schroeder

 

copyright © 2019 Holy Trinity Lutheran Church