Tomorrow marks an anniversary for me, an experience common to all of us who live long enough to lose people we love. Ironically, in my own history, two different beloved people died on this same date, several years apart—both of them have been gone many years now. But every year, this date causes me to be in a reflective mood. I have been thinking today about the strange process of grief. It is unique to each of us, of course, as unique as the relationships of those whose loss we grieve. Occasionally, we lose people we love and after the initial sadness and pain of grief, we are able to return fairly quickly to our “normal” lives without much of a ripple on the calm surface of our days. At other times, however, we lose someone we love and the grief we feel never completely heals. Even many years later, we are still experiencing the reverberations of that love, that grief, that loss in our lives. As time passes, while pain eases, we continue to discover new dimensions of grief, new layers to the ways in which the loss affects us. Unless we are stuck in pathological grief, we will move on with our lives. We will experience healing, we will come to know deep joy once again, we will discover new ways to find meaning in our lives, we will adapt to a new way of living, a new identity, we will embrace a future that, though changed, is still full of rich possibility and hope. But, we are forever changed and there remains a void, an absence, that we will always feel.
Faith helps. But, if you are anything like me, even your faith will shift and change over time as you experience grief. When I think about lost loved ones, there are times when my faith is strong and sure, unshaken and filled with certainty. At such moments, I am convinced that my loved ones live on beyond death; that they are with God; that they are filled with a love and joy and peace and wholeness we cannot begin to imagine; that we will be reunited in a place I will call heaven, that we will know one another and that our joy will be complete in that reunion. But, there are other times when I doubt, when I am less certain, when my faith is shaky, when I question whether lost loved ones continue to live beyond death, and even if they do, if they maintain their unique, individual personalities, if we will know one another after death, if we will be reunited. I believe this experience of the shifting sands of faith is quite normal, that it is entirely human. I count myself blessed that I spend more time in faith than in doubt, but I cannot pretend that doubt is not sometimes a part of my journey of faith..
I also believe that Jesus knew how very difficult the experience of loss and grief is, how much we need something to hold onto, how important it is for us to remember. Jesus spent his earthly ministry giving his disciples, his friends and loved ones, concrete memories to sustain them, rituals to nourish them, rituals that would bring him to their memory. On the last night of his earthly life, he took bread and blessed and broke it and gave to them and said, “Whenever you eat of it, do this in remembrance of me.” He took wine and poured it into a cup, gave thanks for it, gave it to them to drink and said, “Whenever you drink of it, do this in remembrance of me.” Over the many centuries of our life together as Christians, this life and this death have reverberated in our own lives, and every time we gather together and remember him, we discover new layers and dimensions of his life among us, new ways we are in relationship to him, new ways his life gives our own life meaning, new ways in which his suffering and death redeems our own experiences of suffering and death, the ways in which his Resurrection gives us hope that death is not the end, that life goes on, that Love never dies. Over the centuries, when we have gathered at the table of the Lord’s Supper, we have remembered him, but not just him; for Over the centuries we developed language about the reality that when we gather at that table we gather not just with him and brothers and sisters in the pews around us, but we affirm that we gather with the whole of the communion of saints, with believers of every time and place, that, yes, we gather even with loved ones who have gone before us into his Presence. It is a mystery of communion, of reunion, of remembrance. When my faith is shaky, I need only stand at that table, say those words, and suddenly, I am certain once again—certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that resurrection is real, that life is eternal, that love never ends.
Tomorrow, we will gather for worship. We are in the season of Eastertide. We continue to celebrate and joyfully affirm the truth of the Resurrection—Christ’s Resurrection and our own. Tomorrow, we will also gather around the Table of the Lord. We will break bread. We will pour the cup. We will remember him. And we will also call to remembrance a host of others who are at the banquet feast in the Kingdom. Tomorrow, for me, will be a day of Remembrance in so many ways. I am grateful that a part of that remembrance will be the joyful affirmation of an empty tomb and a mystical communion in bread and wine. All of it is a remembrance of a Love that never ends. What a gift.
“When you remember me, it means that you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that if we meet again, you will know me. It means that even after I die, you can still see my face and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart. For as long as you remember me, I am never entirely lost. When I’m feeling most ghost-like, it is your remembering me that helps remind me that I actually exist. When I’m feeling sad, it is my consolation. When I’m feeling happy, it’s part of why I feel that way…’Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,’ the good thief said from his cross (Luke 23:42) There are perhaps no more human words in all of Scripture, no prayer we can pray so well.” Frederick Buechner