I was intrigued to hear that from these past two years with COVID-19 a thing called ‘long grief’ is now being discussed which I discovered was a short hand for prolonged grief disorder. And yes, I was intrigued especially in this season of Easter – the seven weeks of Easter before Pentecost comes around – when the Christian Church says loudly, ‘Christ is risen!’.
The resurrection of Jesus is a game changer on Planet Earth. That’s precisely the point. Death is no longer the inevitable, unstoppable monster that robs us of life though it can be indiscriminate. The world might look twice at Christians if being a Christian could be shown to produce a long life but death still strikes Christians of all ages and because there is no demonstrable benefit to being a Christian, the world just considers Christians deluded. And Christians themselves can wonder. The Apostle Paul had to deal with this pastorally when the first Christians died before Jesus reappeared just as the first Christians had to deal with death when they were persecuted and killed. The resurrection of Jesus didn’t stop death coming but Jesus reframed what was happening. The sting of death has been taken away (1 Corinthians 15:50-57) and yes, Christians grieve but we do not despair (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
These verses – and many others such as the 23rd Psalm and the promises we hear in Revelation – speak into our situation whatever the context of the death and whatever the context of the grief not to click fingers and make the ‘bad’ go away but to comfort us so that we can live on – and live on particularly with the loss of the loved one as part of our life. The enigmatic short verse ‘Jesus wept’ (John 11:35) in the atmosphere of grief at Lazarus’ tomb helps us understand that God understands grief and sorrow and loss. Gods in ‘the supermarket of religion’ are generally aloof to death – they are too far ‘above’ death being immortal – but again the Apostle Paul reminded the early Christians that our God is the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort who actually comforts us in our afflictions (2 Corinthians 1:3,4) and there is a goal there – that we are comforted and that we can comfort others.
Pain and grief do two things extremely effectively – isolate us from others and cut us off from living our own lives – and yet Christians can learn and understand that in Jesus, God understands our experience and doesn’t abandon us. Our God is both good and helping – even when we think he has failed on both counts – especially when pain and grief rage through us. And yet Jesus never turns away and hopefully his people won’t either and he and we accompany those who grieve and mourn on their journey after death has come close – not giving ‘quick answers’ or expecting people to ‘get
over it soon’ but listening and still pointing again and again to Jesus’ cross and empty tomb and the promise that death never has the final say in this world.
The circumstances of deaths over these past two years are traumatic whether it is a C-19 context or not, whether it is an expected death or a sudden one, whether it is the death of the elderly or the very young. Each death is unique as is the grief carried by those living. And in this Easter time we are reminded that Jesus can speak personally into each situation and to each person and offer hope when things seem hopeless. There is no ‘magic click finger’ solution here just words, water, bread and wine and love and patience. With Jesus, no matter the long grief – and really grief is part of our life for the rest of our life – there is always hope and life.