Some days it feels like little bits of you drift away. Other days, it feels like whole pieces of you go missing.
That’s how grief works; it can slowly erode away body and soul (any 20-yr high school reunion can attest to this) or it can hit like a tornado and when you stop to peek from beneath the wreckage, everything you knew to be normal is just gone. Youth can provide some buffer but even then, no one can argue the grief of a broken heart or realizing you’re different for riding the school bus alone.
Maybe that’s why I’m a Christian because Christians deal head on with grief, but not in any sentimental spiritual way. Even more, maybe that’s why I feel called to preach: because I believe below and beyond our grief is a God who became real and fleshy and prone to tears and loves us so much our sin and deaths are suddenly small potatoes. I preach because I believe in a God who gathers the lonely and eases heartache and loves 7th-graders, just as they are. I preach because I believe in a God who has experienced both absolute absence in the cross and brings absolute presence to us even now as you and I sit here at our computers. I preach because I believe people long to hear — in their deepest being — that they are madly loved, and they are never alone even if they all-too-often and single-handedly navigate the Lean Cuisine aisle.
I know this about my people and I bet dollars to donuts that you know it about yours too. You know that each person in your congregation at times feels utterly alone, they wonder if they matter, or make a difference or people notice or appreciate them. I know this because I meet with them, and we talk. We talk about showing up to funerals and seeing your ex-husband for the first time since the divorce, and all the terrible mistakes. We talk about what it’s like to be a professional musician and diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. We talk about why the bullies at school are popular. We talk about returning home from the hospital after a loved one suddenly and tragically died and the grief overwhelming you because the first thing you come across is a pair of their eyeglasses.
There’s a lot of bad press out there about Christianity. We probably need to fix that, but just like everyone else Christians are not all that great at being gracious with people who are different from us. Not only that, we confess that even our best intentions are infected by sin, so even our attempts to build up Jesus as a name brand will be a bit corrupted if we’re left in charge. Sometimes you can’t even use a plastic bag anymore without feeling like you need an absolution.
But, we have in our tradition, at its very core, a God who reveals Godself to be patient with us. We have a God if we forget, as Annie Dillard writes, will flash God’s hinder parts at us. We have a God, who loves flesh and dry bone and broken hearts, and refuses to leave, trailing us, picking up the pieces and redeeming them into what is good and holy. We have a God who knows grief and loneliness and death and in great love, carries us away from the rushing darkness to what we most long for, Christ, our only real home.