A dear friend died last week back in Memphis. We shared a deep and abiding passion for Mississippi State no matter if the team deserved that loyalty or not. We also shared several painful experiences centered around the deaths of family members, including his wife. She died suddenly and unexpectedly as a result of an aneurism.
We were not the same age, separated by at least a generation. We did not see each other as often as I would have liked after each of us moved out of the neighborhood where we had gotten to know one another. We did not talk as often as I wish, either. He was a member of the church, but had not been in some time.
When his son called me to tell me that he died, I was shocked and saddened. Shocked at his death, and as we talked, I was already transitioning into “pastor” mode to help the family navigate the acute grief as well as making plans to celebrate his life. My sorrow deepened when I realized that I was no longer their priest. Someone else, fully capable, compassionate and competent, would have to be present in a way that I had been for this family many times before.
I grieve his death, and I grieve the change in my relationship with his family. I spoke or texted to several of them, and they are an amazing and resilient family. They were well-cared for and well-loved. This loss for me was different.
All of us have experienced grief in one way or another, the death of a loved one, a career change, a relocation, a divorce or some other kind of disruption. True that we all grieve differently, but we all grieve because loss is painful. In moments of such pain, there are no words that either adequately explain the pain or soothe the grief. We have to lean into the sorrow far enough to know that we are leaning on God’s shoulder, resting in his hand and living by his goodness and grace.
Perhaps the point of following Jesus is to have someone to lean on, against and with. We do not grieve alone ever, for we share in the mystery of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection with all those who have believed before us. We rely upon that story of hope and new life as an impetus for embracing joy, even when that is elusive. We know that life conquers death, joy overcomes sorrow and hope is the antidote to despair.
Summer is dying to Fall, and colorful leaves remind us that this transition happens each year. Seasons change, and together we enter a new season at St. John’s, one predicated on the faithfulness of God. Our response to God’s faithfulness is the proclamation to a hurting world, that God is in the grief, in the pain and in the sorrow. I pray that we can shout with our souls and our lips, “We are here, lean on us, lean on God.”
The Rev. John P Leach, Rector
St. John’s Church