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Living through grief together

Martha shares grief with Jesus

Holy Week is very different this year. Pastor Devon Herrell talks about grief as she retells the story of Lazarus.


Pastor, Big Rapids 1st UMC 

Well, friends in Michigan, we find ourselves again in an even more interesting time as we are being asked to buckle down and quarantine in our homes for at least the next three weeks. Sunday was the day that this all really hit me. As I walked down the lonely dark hallway to our sanctuary, I was filled with such sadness at the emptiness. It’s funny how this can trigger all sorts of things in us. I was emotional going in, and then, when our live stream really failed, I just cried after worship. 

That original feeling of sadness led me from the realization that I wouldn’t be in worship with all of you any time soon to a feeling of despair about what else I can do to help us stay connected. Then came serious frustration at things not going as I’d hoped, and on into the afternoon, I found myself really in the throes of grief. It’s a bit of a familiar feeling to me since my Dad passed and then my amazing Aunt, but grief does come up at the weirdest times. I’m thankful that a long walk in the woods helped me get my head and heart back on the same page.

Feeling this drastic loss of control can trigger all sorts of things in us, and I guess I am writing about it today just to tell you that if you’re having trouble, you’re not alone.  If you are feeling all sorts of feelings that don’t make sense, you’re not alone. And if you’re able to stay in the rational facts and figures of the Coronavirus maze, all of us feelers really need you in our lives right now.  

In the 11th chapter of John, Jesus is confronted with the news that his good friend Lazarus is sick. He waited two days before making the journey to Bethany to connect with Lazarus’s sisters, Mary and Martha. When he finally arrived he was four days too late, Lazarus had died. He was first confronted by Martha, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” He reassures her that Lazarus will rise again. A few verses later, it is through her tears that Mary confronts Jesus with the same reality, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” It’s at this point that Jesus’ spirit is moved, and he asks her to take him to the tomb of Lazarus. And, as he stands there, he weeps.  

Today as the news of this three-week stay-at-home Executive Order was announced, I felt like I was standing outside of the tomb weeping. I realized that this year we would not be diving deep into the power of Holy Week as we would normally do, nor will we gather in the joy of an early Easter morning to celebrate Christ’s victory over death. I’m not sure how we will do this from my living room, but I promise you we will. And when we can gather again, we will have the most amazing Easter celebration that you’ve ever experienced.  

Jesus understood the depth of Mary’s grief. He felt the loss that comes with the death of a loved one and friend. He knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead, but in that moment he just felt what they were feeling.

Sometimes it is easy for me just to push down feelings of sadness or grief and latch on to joy and thanksgiving as fast and boldly as possible. Perhaps now is the time we are being asked to slow down and stand outside the tomb with Jesus. Just allowing and embracing the fear and feelings that come with all of this unknown, yet resting in the knowledge that the power of Christ is real and can raise us from death into new life. That’s the good news that’ll never fail.  

So, if you are like me and feeling these things pretty deeply these days, make sure you reach out and connect with people that will encourage and love you. Let’s not be afraid to embrace each other right where we are and stick together until we can physically be together.  

If you need a great song, that’s all about resurrection, to cheer you up, watch, listen, and sing Ain’t No Grave along with Molly Skaggs or Johnny Cash.