Our grief is an act of worship

Read in memory of Ruthie Carter, at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Enid, Okla., Feb. 22, 2020

“Jesus wept.”

“I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord. Whoever has faith in me shall have life, even though he die.”

We hear those words from our opening prayer again in today’s Gospel reading, from St. John. We read and hold onto these words at funerals, and we should, because they point to the source of our hope: Christ has conquered death, reigns eternal, and waits to greet us in His loving arms, into eternal life.

Christ’s life, death and resurrection are the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “he will swallow up death forever.” Christ is the reason we can proclaim with the psalmist: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

Ruthie has gone before us in the journey we all must take, into the refuge and strength of a loving God. She’s passed into the scene St. John the Evangelist describes in our reading from Revelation, of the Great Multitude, “that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb,” worshiping “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

We have these assurances. We have this incredible promise. “I am the resurrection and the life … and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” In Christ we have the assurance of life eternal. We have the assurance that Ruthie has not truly died, but has risen into true life, into life eternal in the presence of Christ. That is inexplicably good news. And yet, we grieve.

Sometimes, we, as Christians, can feel, or be made to feel, we are somehow coming up short in our faith when we grieve – as if we’re not really holding onto the promise of eternal life. But Jesus, by his life and teaching, tells us something very different.

In our Gospel reading, we hear Jesus tell Martha, grieving over the death of her brother Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life,” and if we believe, we will never die. What we don’t have in this brief reading is what came next, when Jesus encounters Martha’s and Lazarus’ sister Mary, who is weeping, grieving, at the death of her brother.

“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” Jesus, who’d just said we will never die, was moved and troubled with grief. And then, we’re told, “Jesus wept.”

Jesus wept. Jesus knew Lazarus would be raised. He knew death held no permanent grip on Lazarus. He knew he would conquer death for each and every one of us – for you, for me and for Ruthie. But, Jesus wept.

In Jesus, Christ became both fully human, and fully divine. God became flesh to suffer with us. To feel our pain. To embrace our sorrow. To weep with us. Christ walks with us in our sorrows and our joys. And when we grieve, Christ grieves with us – even though we have no need to fear death.
In becoming one of us, Christ gave us the perfect example of compassion.

And when we grieve, we are not turning our backs on his promise of eternal life. Our grief and our tears are worship. We are embracing the same compassion Christ had for Lazarus. We are entering into pain born of love, even as we embrace God’s love and promise of eternal life. We grieve, even as we embrace the new life into which God has called our sister Ruthie. Amen.

Rest in Peace, Ruthie

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