Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Grief Sermon

Here is the direct link to view my delivery of the sermon: 

Several weeks ago (June 7, 2020) I asked Dean Horn for permission to preach during the Sunday service at Trinity Cathedral, Davenport, Iowa. With all the discussion around the coronavirus there was something missing. We had an elephant in the room and no one was talking about it. Folks were using grief language without using the word grief.

One week later a drastic and overwhelming change came with the murder of George Floyd. the overwhelming emotions generated from social injustice added to the 108,000 coronavirus deaths bringing grief and mourning out into the open big time.

My original plan was to give a sermon on Pentecost to celebrate my 90th birthday and 65th year of ordination. Circumstances changed my plans. Instead Ron May brought the choir to our house and they made a half circle in the yard, distancing, singing two of my favorite hymns, Lord of the dance, and the Celtic ordination hymn which begins with the Trinity. “I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity. By invocation of the same, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” We are called into community as the Trinity is in community. The verse will be the foundation of all I say today with the mystery of the Trinity abiding in our presence.
I facilitated a grief recovery group for 17years. iI a participant came to the group grieving a violent death.  the surviving person was moved to an individual appointment.  Their emotions silenced the emotions of others in a grief group and no one talked. You can be overpowered. Numbing sets in or an equal emotional reaction occurs. Words just don’t cut it when events become too staggering. Words need time to name the pain. And the words cover a wide range of feelings from discomfort, fatigue, frustration, distraction, upset, and grumpy, to disconnect, anguish, overwhelmed, exhausted, crazy times, etc. 

My main task is to share some insights secular and biblical about grief and mourning. All persuasions are grieving and morning. We are a nation and a people in grief. We are a grieving church. We grieve on many levels. And Who knows how many other unresolved griefs linger at the same time.
My credentials for addressing the topic come from being a professional chaplain. The president of the  Chaplains association wrote that grief work is one of our most important skills because to become a whole person requires healing. So where can we look to for healing. Christ heals. Christ did grief work in the upper room, appearing to and being with the disciples, asking the two on the road to Emmaus to share what was going on in Jerusalem. He helped them to Name it and Talk about it. And with Petter who betrayed him three times, Christ asked him three times, do you Love me, feed my sheep

My own grief stories begin early, at age 5, the loss of my dog, and then at age 8 the 3rd generation family farm was lost during the depression of 1938. In six years we lived in seven different houses, I went to four different schools in three different towns. We experienced poverty. I then lost a father with an unresolved grief and chronic depression  Grief can be experienced in many ways. I was a skinny runt, always the last chosen for sand lot softball. I did make it in high school wrestling at 112 pounds. That kind of loss and grief left me with an inner anger needing healing. I have known healing over time.

Our griefs have to be faced, named, and acknowledged more than once. Here I find the Lament Psalms helpful. There are communal laments and individual laments. We need both Jim Wallis of Sojourners is encourage communal laments for our time. We all can write one. We can write a personal lament for not being able to worship together as a congregation in Church. But remember our Baptism:,we are in Christ wherever we go, wherever we are, and we are the Church where ever we go where we are and we are in him and he is in us. 

Lament Psalms have stages.'The early stage addresses God, then the complaint followed by a petition. In the process pain is named in powerful language, like Ps. 86, Bow down your ear o Lord for I am poor and in misery.” 

With the virus and social injustice communal laments are needed, both in the early stages.The titles of articles say it best. Nightmare, social unrest, parallel crisis, Anguish, In reality the stages are extended, taking longer than most people want to admit.

Our Prayer Book is a great resource here with all 150 Psalms, there you will find the laments, and and in the back special Prayers and Thanksgivings starting on page

Dr. Kubler Ross and her five stages on grief are still relevant . A Befriender working with the grief recovery group ave a talk describing grief as work and windows. As work we are all over the emotional map, a mess of spaghetti as one person said, with the different strands representing different emotions appearing, disappearing, and reappearing another place. In the midst of the work we need window times. A time to see where we are. Back to Dr. Kulber Ross and her five windows.

. There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s angerYou’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.  Acceptance, as you might imagine, is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance. I can wash my hands. I can keep a safe distance. I can learn how to work virtually.

You can move these 5 windows to our life at Trinity Cathedral at present, to the social unrest, to any transition in life.  As we share the stories during our window time we become mirrors of understanding to each other.  Loving God, neighbor and self. Or as Shapespeare said, the eye sees itself but by reflection.  We reflect all three. God, Neighbor, and self.

David Kessler, another grief counselor, adds a couple more windows, finding meaning in the jouney and anticipatory grief.  Anticipatory grief challenges our patience and our trust, even Faith. We are grieving an uncertain future. We do not have a final outcome to many of our current issues. We are not back in church. the virus continues, social injustice  continue. Etc. Maintain the course. The Psalms name God as stronghold, rock, and more, In the New Testament we read Christ is in us and we in Him.

In the 17th Chapter of John Jesus prays,

25 “O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. 26 I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”

How is that lived our as we go through the process of being healed in our many griefs? I have a story that I lived the first year of my ordination. I was a curate at St. Thomas Episcopal Church Sioux City. C. B. Chesterman, a successful business, was paying my salary. Once a month he and hs wife took me out to dinner at the best restaurant in Sioux City.. I was 25. They were in their 80;;s. About the 5th month I asked. you folks have so much fun together. What is your secret.?He said without any hesitation. ?We don't know each other yet.” Over 50 years and still getting acquainted.  We don’t know each other yet. Its a life long journey and we are blessed to have each other as sojourners.

I end with the hope that we will continue to know each other, knowing and loving go together as Christ said.

“I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity. By invocation of the same, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  …

 Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me.


No comments:

Post a Comment