Sermon #323 St. Martin’s #79 (Riverway) 11/2/23
All Souls is an ancient feast day on the Church calendar that dates back to the 10th century, though some claim it goes as far back as the 7th century. It is a day we remember all the faithful departed, and it follows All Saints' Day (Nov. 1). The three-day festivities, which include Halloween, are known as All-hallow-tide. Though the Church may only know by name a handful of saints in any generation, All Souls allows us to recognize and give thanks for the lives of those we love but see no longer.
Christian Grief This evening I would like to talk for a few minutes about the idea of Christian grief. I know for some of us here it may a be very raw emotion because our heart is still wounded from a death that we’ve experienced. For others, you may have had years to reflect and come to some sense of peace or acceptance of how things are now without your loved one in your life. The mourner’s journey is a strange one, Christian or not.
And it can almost seem like two contradictory terms: Christian and grief. Why would Christians mourn when they know that life continues on after this one? Why would we be plunged into such sorrow when we know we will see our loved ones again?
There may have been times in your life when you have wrestled with feeling guilty or ashamed about your grief and sadness—maybe you’ve felt like you’re not a good Christian because you are mourning the death of a friend or family member.
And that guilt may not come the week or so after their death, but in the months and years that follow. People will allow us some time to grieve, a few weeks, maybe a month or two, but then we’re expected to get over it and move on. We stop asking how people are doing, afraid to even bring up the deceased one’s name in casual conversation.
It is subtle, and yet in some ways, sinister how we expect people to continue with their lives as if nothing ever happened. Grieve too long and you become a burden; they’ll say you’re obsessed, that you just need to move on.
But sadness is not a sin. Missing someone who has played an important role in your life—someone you love—is not something to be ashamed of.
The great tragedy is when we inappropriately use religion—when we feel so uncomfortable with someone else’s grief and pain that we tell them that everything is okay, there’s no need to be sad because of what our faith teaches.
It’s not untrue that in the long run, we’ll come to some form of acceptance, but saying that to someone who is grieving minimizes the sheer weight and magnitude of their loss.
C.S. Lewis wrote in his book A Grief Observed, “Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.”
How can we simply tell someone that everything will be okay when their whole world has just shattered? How can we tell them that Christians are all about hope—and so they should be hopeful too—when they are presently living in “the valley of the shadow of death”?
Columbine Hours after the Columbine shooting in 1999 a local youth pastor in Columbine was telling the teenagers of his church that they needed to forgive the two shooters. The teenagers, who had just lost 13 of their own friends, gunned down by two of their fellow classmates, were told to bypass their shock and grief and go straight to forgiveness before even reconciling what they just witnessed.
Forgiveness is no doubt our calling as Christians, but we must wade through the tragedy, and in some circumstances, the evil that took place before coming to forgiveness or hope.
Grief, like forgiveness, cannot be rushed. It requires an honest reckoning of the situation—and when it comes to death—that reckoning means naming that this is not how things are supposed to be; death was not a part of God’s original plan. And the shock we feel when someone dies reminds us that we were made for immortality.
We must take the grieving process seriously; many times, it’s a dark and lonely place to be. We are not called to stay in it forever, but we must know that it is there and not to shy away from it.
Dean Trotter Jess Trotter was the dean of Virginia Seminary in the 1950s and 60s. He was beloved by students and faculty alike. He was friendly, outgoing, and he deeply cared about the seminary.
At that time—and even so today—faculty members lived on campus with their families. That was true for Dean Trotter as well, who lived with his wife and teenage son in a house on the seminary grounds, near the chapel.
Though it’s expected that seminarians will attend Morning Prayer every day of the week, faculty for some reason only occasionally attend, but Dean Trotter made sure to set an example and was there every morning.
Tragically, in the middle of one of the semesters, the Trotters' son—who had been battling depression—took his own life in their seminary home. The news, of course, shook the community.
In the following days, when the campus returned to its usual schedule, Dean Trotter continued to make the short walk to the chapel each morning for the service, but he sat in silence. Days turned into weeks. He lost weight and his health began to decline.
Weeks turned into months, and still no word from Dean Trotter, even though he quietly sat in his usual pew. Finally, at the end of one Morning Prayer service, as the students were gathering their belongings, the dean stood up and made his way to the pulpit. At this sight, everyone quickly returned to their pews and a hush fell over the place.
Looking out at the student body who had prayed with him and for him all those many days, he then cleared his throat and said, “I have seen the bottom and Christ is there and in Christ the bottom holds.”
As followers of the Crucified and Risen Lord, we cannot exchange sorrow for hope instantly. We cannot discard grief and pain that is brought about by the death of someone we love. Instead, we must walk through the darkness, knowing that even there, in our deepest sorrow and pain, Christ is present, and in Christ the bottom holds.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.”
The Feast of All Souls’. Year A. A Grief Observed. I knew of the Trotter story but didn’t know the specifics: https://www.ecfvp.org/blogs/2259/in-christ-the-bottom-holds. Personally, tonight I remember Martha Teschan, Donald Dorris, and Gene Wise.