April 14, 2019, Palm Sunday
Acceptance of Loss?
Whether loss is the death of a loved one, divorce, declining health, loss of joy, loss of faith, or loss of a job, it is comforting to know that God’s love restores and renews us over and over again. After each night’s sleep, we are given energy anew. After each cold winter, God renews the world with springtime return of birds, blooming flowers and fruit. God’s grace continuously renews us with hope, peace, love, joy and life. Death is replaced with new birth. New doors are opened when we close old doors and let go of that which binds us. -Lorna Joy Williams, adapted
Mary Beasley had a long, debilitating, painful illness. Mrs. Beasley also had a strong faith and loving spirit. When Mary learned that she had little time left to live, she invited each family member and close friend to her hospital room to talk with them individually. Usually, people visit hospital patients to offer the patient comfort. In Mary’s faith-filled, loving way, Mary comforted and re-assured her husband and her six adult children and their families and many friends. Mary gave and received love and affirmations with all who visited. Mary’s faith filled her with a quiet calm. When Mary had less than a day left to live, her family and I crowded around her bed. Mary exuded peace of mind and even deep joy. We told stories of memories, laughed, cried, prayed and sang her favorite spiritual songs. Along with all who knew Mary, I will be forever grateful for being inspired by her joyful and humble serving others, even when her physical capacity was nearly gone. All who knew Mary continue to be inspired by her faith-filled joy and hope based in God’s eternal love that inspired her every day. Her trust in God gave her calm strength as she accepted losses, diminishing capacities and death.As I led Mary’s funeral service, I sensed the profound grief felt by everyone gathered…and our gratitude for Mary’s continuing inspiration for each of us.
Mrs. Beasley showed me a glimpse of what Jesus must have experienced in his final weeks of life. Jesus faced death with courage and fortitude. According to Matthew, shortly before his triumphal return into Jerusalem, “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter rebuked him, saying, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.” [16.21-3 ]
Peter’s thick-headed denial of Jesus’ looming death made it even harder for Jesus to face what awaited him. Jesus recognized his own sorrow at leaving so much unaccomplished. Peter’s lack of understanding undermined Jesus’ hope that others would see what Jesus taught and demonstrated about God’s love and hope for the world. Jesus recognized that he would face a humiliating and slow, painful death… Matthew tells of Jesus’ agony shortly before soldiers apprehended him: “Jesus fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” –Mt.26.39 Yet he did not deny his approaching death.
Since we know more than Peter did, we can only be grateful for Jesus and his profound inspiration…and willing sacrifice.
Teacher and essayist, Philip Simmons, wrote about life when he was dying of Lou Gehrig's disease. Here’s an enlightening excerpt from Simmons’ Learning to Fall:
All great spirituality is about letting go. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection show us how to win by losing. A “Path of Descent and Ascent” could even be called the meta-narrative of the whole Bible. The link between descent and ascent is so consistent and constant that it’s nearly hidden in plain sight. North American Christianity overlooks this connection between loss and hope because we tend to focus on superficial feel-good messages while de-emphasizing the Bible’s balanced message of loss and hope.
Why did that happen? How can we miss what appears to be the major point of the entire Bible? This lack of understanding probably has to do with human ego, our lack of true maturity and lack of openness to the power of God. Countering our immaturity and resistance, the Holy Spirit is patiently working and inspiring us to grow in faith that is big enough to encompass joy and loss. --Philip Simmons, adapted
Philip Simmons wrote about what it took to awaken him to the basic connection of loss to joy: “We’re stubborn creatures, and it takes a shock to make us see our lives afresh. In my case, the shock was the news, at age thirty-five, that I had the fatal condition, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and would probably be dead within a few years. . . .
At some point we all confront the fact that each of us is, as the poet William Yeats says,“fastened to a dying animal.” We’re all engaged in the business of dying, whether consciously or not, slowly or not. For me, wrote Simmons, knowing that my days are numbered has meant the chance to ask with new urgency the sorts of questions most of us avoid: everything from “What’s my life’s true purpose?” to “Should I reorganize my closets?” I’ve learned from asking these questions that fuller consciousness of my own mortality is my best guide to being more fully alive. . . .
We deal most fruitfully with loss by accepting that we will one day lose everything. When we fall, we learn that only by letting go of our grip on what we ordinarily consider precious—our achievements, our plans, our loved ones, our very selves—only then can we find, ultimately, the most profound freedom. By letting go of our lives, we return more fully to them.
Simmons summarized what he learned from his experience of ALS, saying, To accept death is to live with a profound sense of freedom. The freedom, first, from attachment to the things of this life that don’t really matter: fame, material possessions, and even, finally, our own bodies. Acceptance brings freedom to live fully in the present. The freedom, finally, to act according to our highest nature. . . .The prospect of a short time to live can inspire authentic forgivenss, clarity of priorities and intentional graciousness to others. Only when we fully accept our limiationsn, can we set aside fear and live with deep love and compassion. Loss can teach us empathy; and suffering can inspire us to interact considerately with everyone around us.
Not just on our good days, not just when it’s convenient, but everywhere and at all times we are free to act with Christ-like caring. By recognizing God’s power which is even greater than life, we can find peace of mind. As an angel in one of the many heaven comics declared, “The day after I died, the sun came up without me. I wasn’t expecting that.”
God is not limited by our limitations.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a common colt. The cheering crowd did not recognize that he was about to be arrested. Jesus did realize that he was about to die. Jesus’ acceptance of loss gives the world true hope.