Feast of All Souls Trinity on the Green & Episcopal Church at Yale
Brigitte Fink, PC ‘20 November 3, 2019
From Death to Life
Isaiah 1: 10-18; Psalm 32: 1-8; 2 Thessalonians 1: 1-4, 11-12; Luke 19: 1-10
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
As I prepared for this sermon, reading today’s scripture passages, what struck me was how consistent the theme of all four readings were – hope – the message that death is not inherently the end. In our day to day lives we experience many deaths, in the form of losing something we value – our confidence in each other or in ourselves, a friendship, leaving a community, or even the actual loss of someone we love deeply. In such times our first response is grief, not hope, which is why these readings are so challenging and so important. The messages which we hear in today’s readings are often hard to remember, especially in the moments when we need to hear these words the most. In our times of grief, it is challenging to remember that death is not the end.
As a culture we have not learned to grieve our losses, large or small. We struggle as we grapple with God’s message to us through these versus, repeating over and over again, that death is not the end, “but has passed from death to life.”
It is important to hear this message repeatedly, because there is nothing to assure us this is true. Our own emotions run counter to God’s message as well: we feel this overwhelming grief and pain during times of loss. So listen to the words in Paul’s letter to the Christian community of Corinth.
Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.
What a radical concept we hear in this passage. Our instinct in a moment of transition or loss, is to mourn what we’re leaving behind. It’s true that we need to feel that loss, we need to feel that pain to appreciate what we experienced. But often it’s hard to see the open door ahead of us when we’re still grieving what we’re leaving behind. Whether it’s a loved one, or a community or a phase of your life. Letting go is hard.
Take a minute to think about the losses in your life. What you are having trouble letting go of, what you have learned about the possibilities, the celebrations in your loss?
Because there is also something magical about transition. We hear that magic in the “twinkling of the eye,” in the “trumpet” that Paul writes about.
Because it’s also true that every experience of loss also contains with it the potential for freedom and joy. The moments when we step away from the “thick of it” in life, and sit in the thin places and be vulnerable are when we open ourselves up to God. It is in those thin places, where God comes close and you feel raw enough to see his presence.
When we experience loss we also are given the opportunity to hold in our hearts the lessons that a person, time or place gave us, in a way we can’t when we’re in the middle or thick of it.
I am reminded of a line from my favorite childhood book, when faced with an obstacle the child in the book is told “you can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you have to go through it.”
When travelling through loss and transition, you have to go straight through it. Feeling both the pain of the loss, and the joy that you experienced being with that person, is the gift that God calls to us in every one of life’s experiences.
In those moments of conflicting emotions, moments in which we are deeply vulnerable, remember that this kind of reflection, of making meaning from our losses, is never best done in isolation. The invitation is to not go it alone, but instead to open ourselves to feel God’s unconditional love. Because it is God’s love that heals us, that allows us to move forward rather than stay stuck in our grief, and to arrive in that new place in your life. The voice of faith reminds us that God is right there with us, healing and encouraging, allowing us to reach that joy.
My grandma Sylvia passed away in May, the first loss of a loved one I ever experienced. I felt unmoored, missing her daily phone calls, and hearing her voice on the other end of the line answering with a reassuring “hey doll”. Thankfully, when she left us, my Aunt, reminded me of this lesson. In Grandma’s passing she realized that she had all the lessons she needed, she had been given the guidance to share that same unconditional love with her three young granddaughters. And I know that love resides me in as well.
God is incredibly creative about how he gets our attention, it is in those thin moments, when we have trouble connecting to God who is there next to us, we can trust that God is also present in our friends and our community, and in their love, their listening, their support, which mirrors the unconditional love he feels for each of us.
Paul gives us guidance in our times of pain and loss, reminding us of our life with God gives us guidance:
Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
God shows us how to get through it; be strong, be present, take life’s lessons with you, and if you do, then the loss of the person isn’t really loss because you carry them with you in your own heart.
When we are crying it is hard to see through our tears. Sometimes the path way back to God involves having people in your life who will remind you that God is always with you and around you.
As I go through my senior year at Yale, and think about moving abroad after graduation, I reflect on the person I have developed into over my time in New Haven. I am a stronger person than I was when I entered Old Campus, I have come to faith and let God into my life, I have found communities which have shown me unconditional love, I have also felt loss. And as I move towards this next phase of my life, I remember to be both excited for the new phase ahead, but also to mourn the person I am leaving behind.
So, as you leave this service, listen for the trumpets in your life; because in loss there is also celebration. In our church, and in our communities, there are things which give us meaning in the face of loss and pain. We celebrate the lessons we learned, the joy we felt in the moment and unconditional love we may have received. And it is God’s love that means the most.