Monday, September 28, 2015

For Andrew Grzych

Well, this sucks.

It's what we are all thinking. It's what Mary and Martha were thinking in our gospel passage. You can hear the disappointment in the voices of the sisters as they talk to Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here...” What's the point of knowing Jesus if it doesn't protect you from tragedies like this?

When someone is taken from us suddenly, we all do the “woulda, coulda, shouldas.” We wish we could go back in time and have done things differently. We even wish we could have controlled the actions of others, that we could have made them make different choices. But the past remains stubbornly the past.

And in one sense death is the fairest thing there is. Everybody undergoes it: rich or poor, male or female, good or bad. Death comes for us all. What seems unfair is the timing and the circumstances.

You know who felt that way? The disciples. Just a short time after the events of today's reading they are going to experience the untimely and violent death of someone they love. One Thursday they will be celebrating a big holiday feast with him and by sundown Friday he will be gone. And they will spend the rest of that day, and all of the next, and a good part of Sunday trying to make sense of it all.

You know who else thought death sucks? Jesus. I just read the shortest verse in the Bible which happens to be one of the most profound. It's John 11:35: “Jesus wept.” He is at the grave of his beloved friend Lazarus and his sisters and friends are mourning. And Jesus too begins to cry. And it's kind of odd because Jesus had to know what he was about to do. He had raised other people from the dead: the synagogue leader's daughter and the son of the widow at Nain. They weren't close friends but still, Jesus of all people knew death was not the end. And he knew that within minutes Lazarus would be back with his family and friends. So why did Jesus lose it?

I think it was seeing the impact Lazarus' death had on everyone else. And I think it triggered memories of the death of Joseph, the man who raised him. We never hear of Joseph when Jesus is an adult. We hear of Jesus' brothers and sisters and mother but not of Joseph. I presume he died. And it had to have had an effect on Jesus. The man who took him to synagogue and taught him his prayers. The man who taught him a trade. The man who stood by his mother when everyone thought she was pregnant out of wedlock. The man who loved him like a father. When he died, when Jesus first experienced loss, it must hit him hard. And seeing Mary and Martha and all their friends suffering the same thing brought old feelings back to Jesus and he wept.

So he knows how we feel today about Andrew, husband, son, son-in-law, brother, uncle, friend. Jesus knows our pain. And he knows that it can knock you for a loop, no matter how firmly you believe in Jesus and the resurrection. And so just as Jesus was affected by the mourning of his friends, he feels our grief for Andrew.

And so we enter into the paradox of grieving as Christians. We don't deny the fact of death. We don't deny its power over our emotions. We don't deny the wound it makes in our hearts. We deny its permanence. We deny that it is part of God's original plan for us. And we deny its power over our way of thinking about life.

And yet we cannot deny that we miss Andrew. And yet we know that as Christians we should be happy for him. Any suffering he had is over. And while he is not with us, he is in the best hands we could hope for, the loving hands of his heavenly Father. For we who believe, having someone die is rather like having a loved one go on a long voyage. You are happy for them because they are off on an amazing journey and a much needed rest from the trials of this life. And yet, because you will not see them again for a long time, you are sad. As King David said, our loved ones will not return to us but we will some day go to them.

We do have memories: Brittney and Andrew meeting in the first class of the first day freshmen year; the card games they played in English class Junior year when they realized they were becoming more than acquaintances; when he had this plan to ask Brittney to marry him at the Key Western restaurant and then couldn't wait and blurted out the question before they could even leave; their dream of coming to the Keys and their determination to achieve that despite the bad housing market and all the obstacles they had to overcome. Which brings to mind Andrew's inability to believe that anything was impossible. If you told him it couldn't be done, he would not stop until he proved it could. And this was particularly true when he put his hand to anything mechanical. He didn't just fix things; he made them better. We remember his other qualities: how he made friends with everyone; how he was always giving others a chance; how he was always helping people out, like the time he and Brittney were headed to Marathon and stopped to pick up a homeless man, whom Andrew insisted sit with them rather than in the bed of their truck and how he took the guy to McDonald's to get him something to eat and then gave him some cash for his needs; how he threw himself into helping out at our Vacation Bible School and how much he enjoyed working with the kids; how he loved getting out on the water and fishing.

Those memories of Andrew as the outdoorsy, friendly, loving, giving and forgiving, never-give-up kind of guy are a comfort to us and an immortality of sorts. But they are tinged with the bittersweet knowledge that no new memories will be forthcoming. This chapter on our life with him is over. And so once again happiness and sadness are entwined. We mourn.

And that's OK. It's OK to weep and mourn because Jesus did. It's just that, as Paul said, we do not mourn like those who are without hope.

And that hope sustains us. Our God is a God of hope, of second chances, of never giving up on people and never letting death have the last word. The fact is that just because this chapter is over it doesn't mean that there won't be another. Every week in the creed we say we believe in the resurrection of the dead. Because that is God's basic modus operandi. He is the God of the living. He resurrected his Son. He will resurrect those who are members of the body of his Son. He will resurrect his wounded creation and restore it to the paradise he created it to be. And he will populate it with his people, in new and improved bodies, our same software, debugged and downloaded into new hardware, as scientist and priest John Polkinghorne put it.

Our hope in Christ is living with him forever in a new creation. Not only new but better. There will be no pain, no mourning, no disease or death. We will not lose our loved ones there. That's where we will find them, safe forever. And so the only tears will be tears of joy, when we join Andrew in God's new paradise. 

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