An Emotional Lent: Grief
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 13:31–13:35
The Second Sunday in Lent
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
“An Emotional Lent: Grief”
“I’m sorry. There’s nothing that we can do. You have six months left to live.” What might you choose to do if your doctor delivered such a message? Some people would refuse to believe it, doing everything that they could to fight this forecast, devoting all their time and energy to living longer. Others – maybe even some of us here – might set to checking things off a “bucket list” of things that they’ve always wanted to do or experience before dying. I’d guess, though, that the most likely course of action, the most ordinary, would be to reconnect with friends and family, to share the time that you have left with the people who are close to your heart. But what if those people turned you away? What if the people who were closest to your heart would have nothing to do with you? What would it feel like to have those whom you love the most reject you? After the initial shock subsided, I can only imagine the sense of loss – the grief – someone in this situation might carry.
Grief is an emotion that spans the human experience. True, we do use this word in a number of situations: you might say that someone’s “giving you grief” if they’re making things harder for you, or calling attention to things you’ve neglected. Grief might be seen, in general, as hardship; really, though, it’s something much more profound: grief is a sadness, sorrow, or distress that stems from a sense of loss. When there’s an emptiness in life, we may know grief. A toddler can feel it when a beloved stuffed animal – a steadfast companion – goes missing. They tears they shed come in grief, grief which we might feel all the more profoundly at the death of a loved one. When we lose a parent, grandparent, child, or friend, we grieve. Someone that should be there, isn’t.
Jesus knew grief, and he expresses it today. The incident that we hear about in our reading from St. Luke’s Gospel account comes at a time when Jesus is likely traveling in the region of Galilee, in up in the northern lands of Israel. He has been doing and continues to do amazing things: casting out demons, healing people all over the place – and yet, his eye is already looking to Jerusalem. His journey is about to turn towards the south, to the capital, to the last months, perhaps weeks, of his life. He knows what waits in Jerusalem: rejection and death. Even still, he is committed to doing what must be done, finishing the course that is set before him.
If we want a deeper understand of what Jesus is telling his hearers, we should take a look at who Luke tells us he is. First, we know that Jesus is a healer. Throughout his ministry in Galilee, Jesus has been performing miracles, demonstrating God’s grace. He is the Messiah, God come down to walk among His people. He is making known God’s love for the people that He has called to be His own. But Luke’s Gospel also points us to Jesus as the prophet – the rejected prophet – the greatest of a long line of people sent by God to deliver His word to the people. Back in today’s reading from Genesis 15, we heard as God made the covenant with Abram and called him and his descendents to be God’s people. God Himself passed through the animals that had be cut in two, as a pledge saying “Let it be done to me as it has been done to these animals should I break the covenant.” God has been faithful to the covenant; however, His people have turned away. Over the centuries, they turn away again and again, rejecting God and what it means to live as His people. Jesus himself would indicate His role as the rejected prophet in Luke 20 as he references Psalm 118: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” But most importantly, Luke shows us that Jesus is the ultimate evidence of God’s faithfulness to the covenant He made with Abram, that He would be with His people. Jesus is the one who brings the fulfillment – the filling-up – of the Gospel message, that God has come to bring people back to Himself: not just Abram and his descendents, but all people, the children of Adam. This is who Luke tells us Jesus is.
Jesus grieves because he knows that the people who are supposed to be under his wing have refused his invitation. They turn him away, wanting nothing to do with this Messiah, this God-with-us. Jesus grieves for Jerusalem because the people who should be with him, aren’t.
How much are we like those people? How much are we Jerusalem today? In this time of Lent, we need to consider that we have grieved God’s heart by rejecting Jesus in our own lives. He has called us to be his own, but there have times when we didn’t want to hear his message. We didn’t want to have to consider our choices and actions in the light of what it means to live as God’s people. Every time that we have acted selfishly, in uncaring fashion, we rejected Jesus. We grieve God because we have turned away from Him in our sin, turning our backs on His presence in our lives. We are not where we should be. And in rejecting Jesus, we end up grieving ourselves, leaving ourselves empty and alone.
But Jesus calls us again today. He continued his journey to Jerusalem for us, because he is the fulfillment and embodiment of the Gospel message. He went to Jerusalem to win for us the forgiveness of our sin so that we would not be empty and alone. He would give up his life for us on the cross to shelter us from sin, death, and the devil, even as a mother hen would give her life to protect the chicks she gathered under her wings. In last week’s Gospel, we heard Satan cite Psalm 91 as he tempted Jesus in the wilderness. But today, Jesus points to how he himself would be the fulfillment of the psalmist’s verse: “He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.” God wants his people to be where they are meant to be, living in the shelter of His grace.
That is where God calls you and me to be. We do know and we will know loss in our lives. We experience grief. In those times when we feel the absence of something that should be there but is no longer, Jesus calls you and me. He beckons us to come to him, especially when we know grief. In times of emptiness, he fills us with the truly good things that we most need: forgiveness, comfort, and new life. Even in this season of Lent, every Sunday looks ahead to Easter. Every Sunday looks ahead to the promise of the resurrection that we have in Jesus who, once rejected, has become the cornerstone. When we experience grief, we, too, can look ahead to the resurrection. We can look to the new life that is ours even know as God gathers us in.
We don’t know how much time we have left to live. But while we live in these days of Lent, we do know that Jesus is calling us to live under him, in the shelter of God’s grace.