"It's not that we don't know how to grieve," says Bishop Hughes in her sermon at the diocesan Memorial Service on June 13, 2020, at which we mourned online those whom we could not mourn in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic. "We do know how to grieve – but grieve in this way from afar. Not able to put our arms around someone. Unable to hug, unable to be there to stand with the family, or if we were the family, unable to have that larger family of extended relatives and friends with us at the end of someone's life. And probably the most brutal of all things is the number of people who did not get to say goodbye." (Time: 12:51.)
Friends, it has been a very long three months. There is simply no way we could have imagined or thought of what would come across our paths in these last three months. And every single bit of it, from leaving our churches and our workplaces and our schools and the routines that we know, suddenly. This sense of being in a place in our own homes all the time. The sense of worry watching our country struggle so hard to meet the need. And I think the hardest thing that I've heard from person after person after person, both the ones who've experienced it and the ones who have watched it happen, has been this sense of loss upon loss upon loss, as good people, beloved people, people whose lives were important to us came to an end.
It's not that we don't know how to grieve – we do know how to grieve – but grieve in this way from afar. Not able to put our arms around someone. Unable to hug, unable to be there to stand with the family, or if we were the family, unable to have that larger family of extended relatives and friends with us at the end of someone's life.
And probably the most brutal of all things is the number of people who did not get to say goodbye. Not face-to-face. Grateful for the people, the medical personnel, that held the telephone to someone's ear or held an iPad in front of them so goodbye could be said in that way. But also with an impossibly deep ache to not be at someone's bedside and to hold their hand as they took their last breath in this earth and their first breath in the next life. It has been hard and it has been troubling and those words that Jesus said to the disciples, "Do not let your hearts be troubled," have sometimes been a comfort and sometimes been hard for us to live into – because our hearts were troubled.
It may help us to remember that we are not the first with troubled hearts, that when Jesus said those words face-to-face to the disciples they had no idea what he was talking about. He had all of a sudden started talking about his death – one minute he's washing their feet and feeding them, the next minute he's telling someone go take care of your business and Judas leaves, and then he talks about leaving them and going to a place where they cannot go with him. It made absolutely no sense and into their confusion, and it could be into their sense of impending doom because his seriousness had to communicate itself to them, into that sense of impending doom here he stands saying, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe in me, and know that my father's house has many rooms and I am going to make one ready for you."
Now here's the part for us. For those of us who have worked our faith and worked our faith for a long time we are actually not worried about where our loved ones are. We know that Jesus has gone and made a place for them. Jesus has taken care of that. There is a sense of us that knows, we can almost feel it in our spirits, that when they took that last breath here and the first breath into the next life, but they went straight into some sort of celebration, a celebration that's hard for us to know about but not difficult for us to imagine. A celebration where Jesus was there to say, "Welcome home. I have a place for you."
We're not so worried about them. It's our feelings. It is for us who are left behind. It is for us who are trying to determine how to make sense of all of this, and how to make sense of the fact that we just feel bad because we couldn't be there the way we wanted to be there. Whether we were a relative or a friend or someone sitting on the periphery, that we couldn't be there the way we wanted to be there.
And I want to hold those words up for us again because I think we hear them, I think we hear, "My father's house has many rooms and I go to prepare a place for you," and we automatically go straight to the next life, and clearly that is what Jesus is talking about, but God does not seem to be limited in time and space and notion and being the way we are. Could it possibly be that Jesus has prepared a room for us, a place in God's house, right here, here in God's territory on earth. And one of those rooms may be the room where we do our grieving, where we do the hard work of sorrow, and in that room we will find comfort from God. We will find comfort from Jesus. We will find the spirit whispering into our ear. But there is plenty of room for all of us in that space.
And that's not the only room. That God has prepared these rooms of love and connection and friendship so that there are all of these other relationships that have grown so much deeper in this time. The incredible irony of the time that we're in, is here we are physically separate, but our love has grown stronger. The bonds that draw us together have become thicker and more supple, more able to open and take extra people in. It seems odd but in this room God has made more room for those that we love and more room for God that those love.
I've been thinking about these people – all of the people who have died in these three months – and how we can honor them in our lives right now, that maybe that is a part of the work of grieving that we do. That we determine in what way we want to honor their lives amongst those groups of people, were people who adored their families, who loved their churches, who had hearts for people who were on the margins or people who were without. In what way are we being invited into a room that's a legacy room. A room that we keep full of honor for those that we love that have gone on before us. And what way might they be cheering us on. Encouraging us, "Reach out to this one, they're lonely. Reach out to this one, they're tired. Give a call to that one, they don't have food and they're not admitting it to anyone." It could be that in the midst of all the memories that they leave with us, part of the way that we love them going forward is to honor their memory in a way that was important to them and that touches our heart.
There are many rooms in God's house. Many rooms for people. Many rooms for the stage we're in. Many rooms for the different phases of our life. Many rooms for the way that we express the gifts God has given us. Many rooms for us to work on our sense of nearness to God. Many rooms to honor the ones that we love.
I've been talking with you these last six weeks and often we have talked about the people who have died during this time and how painful that is. And we've also talked about the blessings that we have experienced in this time. I think that's part of what's been so strange is the equal mix, the constant churn of sorrow and surprise and delight and beauty and pain. It's been like a slice of life times 100, intensified so much more than we have ever experienced.
And I think about these people who have gone before us, and I do not know them all, but my sense of the ones I do know is this: they would send their love to us, they would understand our missing them, they know that deep love means deep grief. They would not ever tell us, "Don't cry." What a waste to tell someone, "Don't cry." Let's bless our tears instead. And I think these loved ones would bless our tears. And if they could I think they would stand here with us and say, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. I am home. Now you go and live. And live like this space on earth that you're in is God's home too."