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Grief and Hope: A Sermon from The Rev. Dr. Ginger Brasher-Cunningham

Speaker: Ginger Brasher-Cunningham

October 4, 2020

Click here for the full worship bulletin and at-home Communion Liturgy for Sunday, October 4, 2020. 

Sermon Sunday October 4 2020 

Rev. Dr. Ginger Brasher-Cunningham 

Grief. My article for the Steeple this week was entitled Grief is Murky.  After it came out I saw two typos.  Walk rather than walking and dance rather than dancing.  I thought how on earth could I have missed that?  It was not like my usual confusion around the words “that” and “which” or my dyslexic-self flipping letters. I left off the ing on walking and dancing?  Then it struck me. I was not just writing about grief I was feeling it. I cannot count how many times I have reminded people to be gentle with themselves when grieving.  I have cautioned that they will be foggy miss things and feelings will come out sideways.  I guess I now need to add that in grieving we may miss using the correct part of speech too. Before the forenamed in-exhaustive list of how grief manifests we must contend with how grief builds upon itself.  This morning as a country we remain divided. The news from the administration about those who tested positive for COVID fill the air with grief.  Some may be experiencing guilt for thinking I told you so.  Others are feeling anxiety as they realize the virus is real.  More might regret putting others at risk because they chose not to follow health protocol.  All these feelings compound our personal grief our loss of beloved ones and the pain of a separated nation. We know that grief is not clear cut. We all wander around in its muddy waters. A memory a place a moment a date a season can spark our feelings of loss and our longings to have that tangible relationship again. In October I have moments when tears find my eyes. My dad and two closest uncles all died in October. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying offered us ways to understand and perhaps better “manage” our grief.  She named five stages of grief and loss. 1. Denial and isolation 2. Anger 3. Bargaining 4. Depression 5. Acceptance.  Of course they are not necessarily experienced in the same order.  They have a way of swirling about and around us all.Through the years people have added other stages. The one I appreciate most is gratitude.  When we reach that unique place of “feeling” thankful that we loved enough to ache for one who has died we encounter a type of “sweet-sorrow.”  Everyone knows when that odd moment comes. Suddenly the severity of the ache of getting through the day morphs into a dear-ness if you will.  The missing remains while the comfort of love fills the spirit like a strange invisible blanket. At that crossroad the gratitude for love wraps us in a new step of thanksgiving. Our scripture today Philippians 1:3: “ I thank my God every time I remember you” comes to mind when that shift occurs.  While this verse is actually part of an ongoing interaction between Paul and the people of Philippi we can certainly connect with it as well.  One commentator reminds that this chapter is about relationship.  Like Paul’s epistles he generally begins with salutations and then prayer “but in this intro the very beginning is a long gush of love.”  What a great line – a long gush of love.  Many suggest these early verses of the first chapter in Philippians paint a picture of the relationship between teacher and community or friendship and love all sustained by faith.  Certainly those whom we miss today have been our teachers of and our students in life.  Our community and our relationships are all connected to our faith that grounds us in love and calls us together.There is another avenue we acknowledge.  Even in grief we recognize painful aspects of life - the words that were harsh the actions that were damaging the dreams that were lost and the amends that were not made  - are part of the mix.  We hold all those tensions together. As we walk the path of sorrow we must release the what ifs as we search for the lessons learned and the moments loved. One winter I stood over a grave with my friend. She watched her father’s casket as it was lowered into the ground. Then she looked back up at me.  Calmly she said “he can no longer hurt me.” Although he abused her throughout her growing up years she cared for him on his death bed. She said that she grieved her loss of innocence but not her loss of kindness to a weakened elderly and despicable person.Grief is not always born out of longing for someone we miss. Grief slaps us as past traumas emerge. Grief comes as we long for the healthy love that was never given. Grief is complex profound and must be addressed. It will always come out sideways. However the more we address it the more we can understand it. “I thank my God when I remember you”-- my love my child my mom my dad my sister my brother my sibling my companion my friend - - I thank my God when I remember you.  Certainly we can offer thanks for the most loving connections in our lives. Eventually we can make meaning out of the more challenging bonds in our lives.  For all these relationships make us who we are.As we ponder our individual journeys we have the opportunity to learn how to support others who know the ache of loss and longing.  For example - we have a group of people who knit prayer shawls and a committee who prays over each shawl for all who receive them.  Some deliver meals to those grieving and others plant trees in honor of one who died. Today on World Communion Sunday around the world we share a meal as we remember Jesus as love incarnate.  We connect our hearts across the globe with others as we remember that death does not conquer love.  We have these connectors and ways to communicate care and yet our resources and our ways to comfort one another have shifted during these past six months of COVID time.  We rely on prayers notes texts gestures of love and calls as we maintain physical distance.  We as a people embody grief as we restrain ourselves from embracing one another during days of separation.From The Color of Together my spouse Milton wrote a poem and book about sharing the journey of grief together. Please listen to the poem with an ear to hear actually imagine and see the images in a physically appropriate distanced setting. We have learned to be creative in many ways let’s try this one too. He writes-solstice come sit in the dark with me and look at that moon that is so at home in the night let us reach deep into the pockets of our souls for scraps of hope and wonder come look up at the firefly stars flinging their light lay back on the blanket of dead leaves and sleeping soil would that we had a ladder to make a consolation of ourselves come sing our favorite song softly into this silent night that welcomes the first day of winter the one about being together no matter what—yes—that one come sit in the dark with me There is magic in sitting under the night sky. The surrounding darkness and the stars that dot the air remind us of the vast spectrum and continuation of life.  In scripture we read that Jesus said I am with you until the end of the ages.  I think about love like that. Those whom we remember those who dwell in our hearts are with us always. Amen.

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