A sermon on Hebrews 4.14-5.10, John 17.1-10, and Romans 14.7-9
[I began the sermon by reading a variety of sympathy cards that would commonly be used to show condolences after the death of a loved one. I mocked them up so they would be signed.]
To let you know
that thoughts and prayers
are with you
in your time of sorrow.
If there's anything we can do, just ask.
Bill and Jen."
"Peace to soothe you,
Grace to hold you,
Love to comfort you.
We are thinking of you
in your loss.
"As we say our good-byes here,
they celebrate in Heaven.
A dearly loved one
is welcomed home.
We've all received cards just like these.
They come from people who care for us
with the best of intentions.
I know it's a social etiquette I was taught early on.
When something bad happens to someone you care about,
you get them a card.
You go to the store.
You sift through the cards, finding the sympathy category within the stationary section.
You read through a card,
looking for a carefully constructed message
to convey to this hurting person
the peace, love, and condolence you with
you could just physically hand to them.
Since that isn't an option;
one of these cards will have to do.
Like I said, this act of kindness comes from a good place.
But the sympathy Jesus offers here, is radically different.
When I was around thirteen, my Nana died.
I had been to a lot of funerals and visitations before,
but it was a completely different experience standing next to the casket.
People offered many of these same warm regards:
"She's in a better place."
"She's with Granddad now."
"I'm sorry for your loss."
And some just hugged me.
But then the visitation was over,
And all of those people went home.
Back to their lives.
Much like the plants from my Nana's funeral,
the pain that came from her death stayed with my family.
My dad still waters some of those plants to this day.
It's in those moments,
after family has gone home
when the casserole offerings have dried up,
and you're left sitting in your living room with plants and cards that offer both
a reminder of your loved one and how much you're loved,
it's in this moment that the sympathy, as Jesus gives it, is different.
When Aunt Edna gives you a card covered in birds that assures you that your
grandmother is in a wonderful place,
she's doing the best she humanly can.
But anyone who has dealt with grief and loss knows
We need something more than that.
I said two weeks ago
that because Christ lived among us,
He knew loss and heartache and sadness.
And to be fair, Aunt Edna probably does too.
But while Aunt Edna knows her sadness,
Christ knows our sadness.
And that's a very important distinction.
And the distinction lies within the different of sympathy and empathy.
They can be tricky to differentiate.
Sympathy is what all of these cards represent.
It's the ladder your friend throws down to help you limb out of those hole
of sadness, grief, and loss.
Empathy is what happens when,
while stuck in that same hole,
that friend comes to the bottom of the hole to sit with you,
to hear your loud cries and tears.
Empathy is waiting to emerge from the hole,
until you say you're ready.
In Hebrews 5, we hear;
"In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death..."
These loud cries and tears are echoes of our loud cries and tears.
Because we have a Christ who has gone before us.
Who knows our deepest hurt, and who understands our broken hearts,
Who understands the importance of crying alongside us.
Loss can leave you in a place of deep darkness.
A place of loneliness, isolation, and helplessness.
Because eventually the phone calls offering condolences stop.
We place a sort of permanence in the hole our grief ad sadness has placed us in.
We resign to the fact that we may not be ready to leave yet.
But Jesus offers no sympathy card.
Jesus isn't going to bring you a "tater tot hot dish."
Because the empathy that Jesus offers is so much bigger than that.
So what does Jesus' empathy look like?
We often don't know until it's happening.
But here's what we do know:
Christ exists in the silence, when no words could heal us.
Christ exists in the music, when that one song consoles us.
Christ exists in the relationships, when that loved one knows exactly what to say to us.
Christ exists in the moments we don't understand because,
as long as we find ourselves there.
Christ is also there with us.