Rev. Dr. Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd, Westworth United Church, April 20, 2014
Mary of Magdala and another Mary were racked in grief. Their beloved rabbi, Jesus, had suddenly been killed. Their hearts felt wrenched open; their grief was unbearable. They were exhausted, but the reprieve of sleep was scant.
Their faith also died that day. The one whom they followed as the Messiah—the one who was to liberate the Jewish people from Roman oppression died a torturous death under the hands of the Roman soldiers. They received no comfort from their God, who seemed to have abandoned Jesus on the cross. They heard Jesus cry out in agony, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
We, too, fear death, whether it be sudden or torturously slow. The grief can be unbearable, the exhaustion debilitating. And just when we need our faith the most, we often feel abandoned by God, alone in a torrent of conflicting emotions.
Death is a cold, hard fact that we go to great lengths to avoid in our death-denying society, ever in search of wrinkle-erasing creams, injections, lifts and implants. We try to protect our children from it, telling them that Grandpa or a beloved pet has now gone to sleep. And yet, children may better be able to deal with death than their parents.
I just heard about a 10 year boy who recently died. As his death was approaching, he told his parents that he wanted them to have lobster dinner after his funeral because lobster was his favourite food. “And,” he said, “I don’t want people to buy flowers. Instead, I want them to buy lego sets for the kids in the hospital.”
A little child shall lead us.
Death is a cold, hard finality but it does not have the last word. There is a resilience of life that refuses to die. Although our mortal breath fades away, God breathes into us the Spirit of life that never dies. Our departed beloved’s gifts of love, like lego sets, live on. Sometimes we see our beloved again in dreams or visions. Sometimes we sense their presence. If the relationship we had was distanced either by geography or emotion, our beloved may be more available to us after dying. We may sense them urging us on, guiding us or even giving us a good scolding.
As many of you know, my mother-in-law died suddenly last week. As we were taking boxes out of her apartment, my partner came back in with quizzical look. “My Mom just gave me heck,” she said. Apparently she let the back door slam unintentionally and she was distinctly aware of her mother’s disapproving voice.
Death comes in many guises. The winter of our soul can seem relentless and never-ending. But the miracle of spring will eventually burst forth with a resilience of life that refuses death’s icy grip. “In the depth of winter,” wrote Albert Camus, “I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
When we think we can go no farther, when the shadows grow yet longer, our Christian faith assures us that God’s eternal spark of life still resides deep inside of us. With prayer, with faith, with the support of community and family, God’s spark of resilient life can be fanned into flame once again.
Mary of Magdala and the other Mary were stunned to see Jesus standing before them. Their world had been torn apart and their faith lay in tatters, but there before their very eyes, stood the resurrected Christ. “Do not be afraid,” he told them as they were drowning in their multiplied fears.
“Do not be afraid,” he says to us, “My love and my peace—they will comfort you. Love one another, as I have loved you. And remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”