Easter is a time of celebration, joy, giving thanks to God for all of our blessings, and of course embracing the truth that comes from Easter that there is life after death. Such things, I believe, invite us to do something else in this Easter season. That is to reframe the grief we have for those we have lost in life.
Before continuing, I am compelled to say that grief is not only normal and healthy, but is something as human beings we must go through. Grief is a faith filled response to loss. Grief is the flip side of loving and the more we love the more we grieve. We are harmed when we stuff our grief. And grief is something we need to do with the loving help and support of others and of course God.
I have been around a lot of death in life, both personally and vocationally. It is never easy and it always hurts to varying degrees. There are many I miss and often when I see a telephone, I want to pick it up and dial the number of a friend, family member, or parent who is gone. Clearly I still am working through grief when it comes to the loss of particular people. Perhaps this is why the experiences of St. Augustine are so compelling to me.
Over the last number of weeks I have been facilitating a Chapel book study. Although we wrap up this week, all are welcome for future reads at any time and information will be on our webpage and in this newsletter when we start the next one. We have been reading, On The Road with Saint Augustine, written by James Smith.
From the book, mixing my words with the author’s, here are some key points about grief as experienced by Augustine. During the course of his life before he came to a deep faith, St. Augustine lost a very dear friend. He was devastated and filled with grief.
About Augustine’s experience Smith writes, “The problem was not that Augustine loved his friend or that he loved something mortal, or even that he grieved. The problem was how he loved his friend. He loved him as if he would not die, grasping onto him as if he were mortal.”
Smith continues, “Even the most beautiful things and faithful friends share something in common: they are made, created, finite, temporal, and therefore mortal. To love them as ultimate, to cling to them as what gives meaning, is to stake one’s happiness on realities that are fleeting; it is to build one’s house on sand.”
Smith writes, “But what if we leaned on the rock instead of the sand? What if there was someone who gathered up all that is lost? What if there was a beloved that could never die, who loved you first, whose love called everything into existence and therefore is stronger than death.”
And Smith concludes, “The solution to loving mortals is not to withhold our love in a protective hedge against loss; rather we can love long and hard, trusting in the God who is all in all, who gathers up our losses in a time beyond time.”
The key points of all of this. Our loving God created us all. Whether we are alive on this earth or with God in the life that follows, we are God’s beloved. God is stronger than death and death is a new beginning with God and with those who have gone before us. This frees us to love people in the here and now, completely, fully, and robustly.
God asks us to love knowing that this life is temporal and that another life follows. So when one we love dies, we are to grieve but to grieve knowing the one we love is with God. To understand that we too are with God now and will be with God when we die. To trust that after this life we will be with those we have lost in incomprehensibly wonderful ways. Hence we grieve and miss but we grieve and miss in a way that is informed and infused by the love of God and eternal life.
Over time, Augustine came into a deep and life changing faith in Christ. Because of this, when Augustine eventually lost his mother, he grieved in a way that was different than when he lost his friend. As Smith puts it in slightly adapted form, “When Augustine’s mother died, his loss was released into the hope of seeing her in the home country of the city of God, where God will wipe away every tear.”
As we celebrate Easter let us remember that Jesus rose from the grave. That this life is just the beginning of an astonishing adventure. That there is so much more to come, when we die, with those we miss and see no longer. We are all God’s beloved, always have been, always will be, and such love is eternal.
Over the course of this Easter week, it is my prayer that each of us will turn to the Rock, Jesus, and spend time with Him in order to receive His help in reframing our grief. And as Frank Sinatra once sang, let us remember that “the best is yet to come.”