On Monday evening, I met with a family to prepare for a funeral. We got together to discuss music and scripture readings, to share stories from the life of their mother and grandmother.
When we talked about Scripture readings, they were certain about Psalm 23. It was their mother's favorite psalm. We should all read it together. As for a Gospel reading, they would leave that up to me. And the Holy Spirit.
Her son had brought along his own Bible. He opened it, and turned to 1st Thessalonians, chapter 4, verses 13 and 14. He said that I didn't have to use it it in my sermon, but he had found great comfort in these verses, which he read to me. "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died." These are verse that I have read often, and have often considered when preparing a funeral sermon. Resurrection hope does not mean that we don't grieve. We still grieve when we lose someone we love.
For some reason I have been thinking about these verses for the past couple of days. Even though they are meant to apply specifically to those who have died, we grieve other losses too, and it occurred to me that perhaps the verses apply then as now.
Take Elections, for example. I overheard a conversation on Facebook between some acquaintances, when the election didn't go their way in their particular area of the country. Everyone was grieving, in a way, almost despairing about what it would be like to continue living here for the next two years. A couple of people were suggesting other, better regions of the country where they could move. It made me wonder if those of us who are passionate about politics and the relationship of our politics and our faith can grieve with hope, and what that would look like. What would it look like to look into the heart of a political loss -- when a candidate you respect and admire does not win her case, when an issue you believe is crucial for creating justice and abundance goes down in flames -- and grieve with hope?
I am also thinking about churches, and about the Church. We are in decline, as everyone says. We are post-Christian, so many people say. The church is dying. I don't doubt that this is true. In my own community two churches have closed in the past two years. My colleague went to a seminar last week and brought back this statistic: 75% of the churches in my denomination are in decline. I don't know about you, but along with the rest of my work, I am also grieving. I am not always sure what I am grieving, whether it is a loss of sense of community, or a loss of shared meaning, or simply the losses of the people I used to see at worship every week, who now come much less frequently, if at all.
What would it mean to grieve with hope?
First I think it is to not be afraid to acknowledge our losses. The church is dying. The dreams I had for my community seem farther away instead of closer. My father was 84 years old, but I still miss him. I grieve.
But to have hope means to hold fast to dreams, and not just hold fast to them, but to work for them. To have hope means to keep on teaching children to read, and sharing bread, and standing up for those who have no voice. To have hope means to return to worship again and again, standing up and singing and praying and serving and listening for the voice of God, raising you from the dead.
What does it mean to grieve with hope?