By Pete Ashton, flickr, cc
Preached by Denise Griebler to St. Peters Episcopal Church Detroit via zoom.
I haven’t said or written much since we have begun sheltering in place. I’m a little nervous to do so now. I am humbled by the pandemic. I am awed by it.
I believe that God is with us and that we are with each other – the profound truth that we are in this together.
There is a story about the Chinese Master, Lau-tzu and his disciples:
The disciples were absorbed in the teaching:
Those who know do not say;
Those who say do not know.
When the Master entered, they asked him what the words meant.
The Master asked them: “Which of you knows the fragrance of a rose?”
Of course, all of them knew.
Then he said, “Put it into words.”
All were silent.
I am grateful for the rawness of the gospel. A man has died. A brother. A friend. There’s mourning and crying. Jesus is late, put he does show up. The one who heals others couldn’t be there in time for his friend. He’s too late.
And it’s not like he rushed to get there. There’s a back story. Lazarus (who has died) along with his the sisters, Mary and Martha – were his good friends. They regularly helped and supported and sheltered Jesus. They were part of his trusted inner circle. Mary and Martha – had sent for Jesus when Lazarus fell gravely ill. But we’re told that Jesus lingered for days where he was sheltering-in-place, hiding out from the religious authorities who wanted Jesus dead. Finally he decides to risk going to Bethany to see his friend, but he’s too late. Lazarus has already died.
I’m grateful for the rawness.
And even Mary’s accusing question: where were you? You could have saved him.
I’m grateful that he doesn’t make excuses. He’s silent. He weeps. I’m grateful for his tears.
And for Martha recoiling from the stench of death – from her brother’s dead body. I’m grateful for Mary and Martha’s anger and impatience with Jesus. And for Jesus’ anger. And his second round of tears at the tomb. I’m grateful for the kerchief-covered face. And for the exposure of the betrayal of the ones who are plotting to keep their privilege and power, who are ready to make easy tradeoffs – one life for many.
I’m grateful for the rawness. Because honestly, I have been feeling pretty numb. And the rawness helps to break me open. I’m glad for all of the weeping in this text. I haven’t yet found my way to tears. How is that possible?
Maybe I’ve been caught up in denial and fear. I hear it in myself as I worry for the “most vulnerable” in a way that serves to distance myself from suffering ever actually touching me in my own body. I am vulnerable. We’re all vulnerable.
And I’ve been caught up in trying to keep myself and my family safe. And trying to do my part – our part – to keep others safe. All of which seem so small and pathetic. Especially when I think of people who need my help. Even as I know this is precisely the best thing most of us can do to take care of each other. Maybe I am too ashamed to weep. But that would be a mistake.
What if grief is our calling right now? Our vocation. Grief is how we can stay human in the face of all of the suffering that has been happening at a distance and is now here and washing over us in Detroit.
I heard about a meme that was circulating on FaceBook. Jesus is in his room, sheltering in place. Someone asks: “Where should I tell them you are?” Jesus replies: “Tell them I’m working in mysterious ways.”
But there actually is a mystery that he stakes is own life and death upon. I think some of the tears he cries are for himself. He knows that death is closing in on him and there is not much more time to be with his friends or his mother, or to be under the beauty of the sky, or out on the Lake, or around the table, to see or smell the lilies, or see the little sparrows or hear the dove hovering or to feel the Wind. Down to the bone he believes anyway: death does not and will not have the last word.
Maybe he’s weeping at the excruciating mystery of that.
I hope I come around to my deepest self and finally weep. I hope you do. I hope we mortals become more human. And that we come to know more deeply our place in the web of all life.
It’s hard to feel like we are doing nothing – especially if you are someone who thrives on the front lines. There’s plenty to do from the place where we are sheltering in place if you are longing for that. People have been busy advocating for the water to be turned back on. And to be turned back on safely. And now, not in 3 months from now. And then to be made affordable for the long haul. The work that we have done for years is having an effect. Thank goodness.
People are restoring other connections as well. Reaching out to family and friends with whom we’ve been out of touch for too long. And there will be neighbors and organizations that will need financial help – be generous. And water deliveries to be made – if you and others in your household are healthy and not among the vulnerable, you could help with that. There will be more opportunities.
But mostly we just need to stay put. And wait. And try to live as well as you can – with as much kindness and joy as you can – in your own household – whether that’s with family, or roommates or alone. And keep ourselves and others safe as best we are able. And let life keep insisting in us. Cindy Tobias reminds us that this is front-line work at this time.
But we can also open ourselves to the suffering and weep when we feel like weeping. Be angry at the ineptitude that could have prevented some of it.
Be awed by the terrible mystery of it and our own vulnerability.
Call on the accompaniment and wisdom of the ancestors – they are helping us.
Weep and rage and rest in God. Amen.