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.
Tim Olson, Lead Pastor
copyright © 2019 Timothy V. Olson