by Fred Penney; redacted and revised by Ronald Coleman
Title: Is There Life after Loss?
Subject: How can we handle grief in a healthy way?
Complement: By allowing Christ's resurrection to speak hope into our grief.
Preaching idea: There can be life after loss because Jesus' resurrection gives us hope.
Last Sunday a 14-year-old boy from downtown Toronto, was killed in a car accident while returning from a youth retreat. You can imagine the pain and agony the family is experiencing right now. Grief, is a word all of us know, because death is universal. Even at a wedding, we still mention it, "until death do us part."
In 1994, CBC Radio host Peter Gzowski, at the conclusion of his lament on the untimely death of colleague and journalist Barbara Frum said, "and so we return now to a real but diminished world." Death creates a diminished world.
The poet Shelley wrote "ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." In other words the death of another affects us all. But at certain moments in life it affects us deeply.
The recent death of Princess Diana led to mass, even worldwide mourning. Author and counsellor Gary Collins once wrote, "mass mourning can develop when a person becomes a symbol of the hopes and fears of many persons." p. 427 of Gary Collins, Introduction to Counselling.
We were all amazed at the outpouring of grief for Princess Diana---but I think that's what we would all like when our loved ones die---we want the world to notice--we want the traffic to stop: "Stop a good man has died--don't you care?" Grief will come in many forms but the most difficult is the sudden, unexpected loss of a loved one.
Last year on August 1st, (1996) a young man I had known very well and had taught when he was just 10, in Sunday School, had a tragic and sudden death. Lauren Searle was just 26 years old, he was driving a truck in the oil fields of Alberta when he lost control of the truck, it flipped over and he and two other friends died at the scene. He was a personal friend and his Dad, though we live far apart, is still is a good friend to me. Lauren himself was in my Junior Boys Sunday School Class. I still have pictures of him smiling for a class picture. When I heard of the death, I called the grief-stricken father to express my sympathies and prayers. It was a very sad conversation. He said Fred, I can be in the mall or walking down the street, and see a young man, laughing, hanging with his friends, and I'll think . . . that should be my son. But he's gone. He used to phone me every week from Alberta, often twice a week. That phone call will never come again.
Grief is painful and many of us know that all too well. There are other forms of grief too. A broken marriage can cause deep felt grief. Being fired from your work is a grief experience. "You're through," clean out your desk . . . life is turned upside down.
Grief will come in many forms but the most difficult is the sudden, unexpected loss of a loved one.
I. TO HANDLE GRIEF IN A PROPER WAY WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND THE REALITY OF GRIEF:
We all know that death is universal, and so grief is too. It is all around us, and it will come up in even routine conversations. Just this past week, while driving to Kingston to attend a conference, a gentleman I had known only very casually, began to talk about his first wife and his second wife. Within a few minutes I learned that just five years ago his first wife had died of cancer. I began to ask him about the grief and the pain he endured as he saw his loving wife slip away. Death is not a subject we like to talk about but there is the reality of grief.
Counsellors tell us there are three stages in the grieving process.
First there is the crisis stage. We get the awful news, and its as if we go into shock. We might deny it, we may cry, we may scream. But we are in emotional distress. Our world has suddenly fallen apart. This most painful stage of grief usually lasts a few days.
Second, in what some call the crucible stage, we begin to deal with the tragedy of death. Anger often will arise, toward a drunk driver, toward the hospital team, toward yourself, even toward God--why did you let this happen? There can be guilt and deep depression, and an overwhelming sense of sadness.
Third, there is the stage of rebuilding our lives, the construction stage.
Here we construct new patterns of living that are not emotionally tied to the past. For some this may mean getting a job, or selling the house and starting a new chapter of life.
There is good grief and there is bad grief. Grief is like steam in a kettle or an engine! It must have an outlet. Grief is not best handled alone--- In our text, Mary and Martha and Jesus share and support one another in their grief!
Remember our definition of grief from Alice Matthews, grief is "the price we pay for loving."
Life involves a series of losses, therefore to live well we must learn to grieve well.
II. TO HANDLE GRIEF PROPERLY WE NEED TO RECOGNIZE THAT JESUS UNDERSTANDS AND SHARES IN OUR GRIEF;
In this real, down to earth story of the death of Jesus' good friend Lazarus, we see Jesus grieving. Jesus is a close personal friend of Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. They have a home in Bethany, just outside Jerusalem. Jesus has a fondness for their company and they developed a friendship, he was often found in their home sharing a meal and talking about life and no doubt having a few laughs.
Jesus is in another town when word of Lazarus' sickness comes to him. Like anyone who receives this kind of news Jesus is concerned. Yet not concerned enough to go to him. In fact Jesus takes opportunity to make a prophetic statement; "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God." (John 11:4) It is as if Jesus has another larger plan in mind, beyond the boundaries of one man dying. Jesus then actually delays his arrival in Bethany. When Jesus understands that Lazarus has died, he then prepares to travel to Bethany (v. 11)
Taken from the perspective of Mary and Martha, Jesus is late and he is possibly even negligent in their eyes. From my point of view, Mary and Martha have a right to be angry. We can see Martha running toward Jesus (Mary is inside the house grieving) and beating on his chest: "Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died." (v. 21).
Later, Mary makes the exact same accusation . . .
In what tone of voice were these words spoken? A polite lament . . . ? I have a little trouble with that calm, placid tone of voice. I think Martha, who seems a little more aggressive, was running toward Jesus and pounding on his chest---
"Why weren't you here?"...You could have saved him!
Martha is here expressing her grief to Jesus, as it was, holding him responsible for this tragedy that has shaken her so deeply. Martha's words are really our words too; She says directly to Jesus what many of us only think when tragedy strikes us. Have you ever felt like Martha . . . have you ever said, "Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died?" Have you ever complained to God in the valley of the shadow of death, Lord if you had been here my son would not have died" . . . "Lord if you had been here my wife would not have died." Where were you, I needed you and you weren't around?"
We find ourselves in a hospital room, holding the hand of a loved one, life is slipping away and we offer a prayer, O Lord, come through for me now! Do a miracle, just like I read about in the Bible! And nothing happens, the person dies. And you are left with that nagging question in your heart, why wasn't the Lord here? Why? Why didn't he heal my loved one? When I needed him the most he wasn't here.
That's grief. That's a fair question. It's an OK question to ask.
Some of us get stuck on the question and we can't get over it. We blame God. Grief drives a wedge between us and God. We think he doesn't care and doesn't understand. After all, he has the power to heal; he's done it before. Why not for me? In fact this question can be a healthy question. It's better than burying the disappointment and not dealing with it. The buried grief can lead to anger and anger left unchecked will show itself in our attitudes and our words, and in our relationship with the Lord. We then keep God at a distance, "don't come too close." That's a recipe for a stagnant and unfulfilled Christian life.
How do we deal with grief in a positive way? In the passage we see that many friends have gathered around Martha and Mary to comfort them. We have weeping, and we have Jesus himself groaning in his spirit and then weeping, with his grief so obvious it brings a response from the mourners . . . "see how he loved him."
III. GRIEF IS TEMPERED BECAUSE JESUS BRINGS RESURRECTION HOPE INTO OUR TIMES OF GRIEF.
Now we want to ask the question, "What is going on in this passage, just beneath the surface?"
Jesus is mourning yes, but he intentionally delayed his coming to Bethany by two days. Why did he do that? He tells us in verse 4; "this sickness is not unto death, but that the son of God may be glorified through it."
There is a purpose in this death. God has a plan at work here. Many times when a loved one dies we have a big problem figuring out how to make sense of the tragedy. A 14-year-old boy is at a youth retreat, there's an accident and he is killed. How can that serve the purposes and eternal plan of God or does it?
I would say to you that there's a very good chance it doesn't serve the purposes and plan of God at all. But there are some deaths that happen in which the timing and circumstances cause his name to be glorified.
I find it interesting here, that Jesus says God will be glorified through this death, but there is a price to be paid for this glory. The price is grief.
Well, Pastor, if you're going to stop right there, I'm not sure I like that kind of God. A God who does things at peoples expense for his glory? Is that what Jesus is about? No, it's not.
Jesus has a bigger plan and purpose in mind and his love for us is much bigger than we can understand or fathom. Let's see what happens here.
Jesus goes to Bethany, Lazarus has been dead four days, he talks briefly with Mary and Martha, and quickly he gets to the point and says in verse 34, "where have you laid him?"
He says what all of us say when we go to visit a loved one who has died, "I have to see him."
Where is the body, it is for many of us a key part of the mourning. With deliberation in his voice, he asks, "Where have you laid him?"
Why is Jesus weeping? After all, Jesus intentionally delayed his arrival so that God would be glorified. There's more to it than that. He's weeping over the death of a friend. He's weeping over the pain in the hearts of Mary and Martha. But more than even that, Jesus is weeping for every death that's ever occurred. He's weeping along with you and me. And I don't just mean symbolically, but I mean really weeping. Why? Because this death, the death of Lazarus, brings into focus the reason, the very essence of the reason why Jesus came to this earth. It's all wrapped up in the death of Lazarus.
Jesus came to destroy sin, and the last enemy to be destroyed is death. And as Jesus looks at the corpse of Lazarus, now dead four days, and he sees Mary and Martha weeping and groaning, Jesus deep down inside himself is saying "I'm going to put an end to this." "Take away the stone" . . . Martha as if trying to calm Jesus, reminds him that Lazarus has been dead four days and the decomposition has already begun. To which Jesus replies, "Didn't I tell you, you would see the glory of God? "Jesus says to Mary; "I am the resurrection and the life, the person who believes in me though he was dead yet will he live and he that believes in me will never die." A brief prayer is offered to the Father and then Jesus simply commands life over death: "Lazarus come forth." He who has power and authority over death, merely speaks and it is done.
And then into this grief filled day in Bethany, Jesus gives us a foretaste of our own resurrection and the resurrection of those who die in Christ. "Lazarus come forth" . . . and then . . . "Loose him and let him go." Jesus is saying "I'm going to end all grief and weeping, that aching sense of loss and aloneness." And he does! Lazarus here, speaks to you and me of resurrection life available through Jesus Christ. Grief is painful . . . even for those who know Christ.
Now you might say, I have to wait . . . there's still death . . . still tragic deaths . . . absolutely. We can't forget the pain. Grief is reality. But the comforting word is this, Jesus weeps with us. When you are beside a hospital bed, don't think for a moment that Jesus is not there, it might feel like he's not there, but he is. And if he's not doing anything else, he is weeping with you and for you.
And the words of a scripture echo in our minds, "I am the resurrection and the life" . . . and again; "the last enemy to be destroyed is death." Death has not yet been destroyed, but its day is coming. Death will one day die.
That is the good news! There is resurrection life for you and for me as we serve Christ. Yes there is pain, grief is the price we pay for loving, but Jesus offers us resurrection hope!
Alice Matthews, of Radio Bible Class, who had an adult son killed while riding his bike in France said since that moment life has changed, it has gone from a Major key to a Minor key. A tragic death makes a huge difference in our lives. But with Jesus at the centre of our lives, we can go forward. Tragic loss will test our faith. There may be a time of struggle when you don't want to talk to God. But hold unto him, for he is the resurrection and the life.
One commentator said, apart from trust in God, the world is a cemetery, but into the world God has sent in Jesus, resurrection life, the opportunity to pass from death to life. Just as the crowds wanted bread and Jesus offered them living bread, so here the sisters want their brother returned and Jesus offers resurrection life to them and to the whole world.
Yes, apart from trust in God, life is a cemetery, but into this world God has sent Jesus with the offer of resurrection life.
Have you been stirred in your grief today? I want to give you an opportunity to talk to the Lord about your grief. We want to remember the person you love today, we want to thank God for their life and offer prayers of support to you who are grieving. There are millions of people in the world right now who are grieving.
There is life after loss as we keep Jesus and his resurrection hope at the centre of our lives.
Grief is painful . . . even for those who know Christ.But let's remember, Jesus understands, as we weep, Jesus weeps with us and for us. One day all those tears will be gone and resurrection life will prevail eternally. Jesus is preparing to speak to the dead once again and breathe life into our shadow of death.