For seven weeks or so we have been social distancing, but it seems to be just recently that the distancing began to fully sink in for me. Sure, I’ve felt melancholy at times, missing my people and my routines and the things I look forward to each week, but not the full weight of sadness that I began to feel at the beginning of last week. Perhaps I’ve been able to shove away the heaviness of my sadness because of the adrenaline from the energy and effort placed into doing things in new ways. I think this was particularly true for the busyness of filming services and devotionals for Holy Week and Easter.
The Sunday before last, I was able to lead a discussion for a Sunday School through Zoom. I had been asked to speak on theodicy and COVID-19 from a Wesleyan perspective. It was a great discussion! Then I tuned in to worship and the sadness hit me like a ton of bricks—another Sunday of virtual worship with the community of God yet feeling the loss of the physical presence of the body of Christ. The sadness carried on into Monday and could have been titled, “Melancholy Monday.” I, again, was filming for worship services and it was a reminder to me that the reality of our situation has not changed.
I suppose it is normal, and good, to feel a longing to worship God in the physical presence of the people of God. We are created to worship God and we are created for community with God and one another. So, on that Monday afternoon, taking a cue from the writing of Henri Nouwen, I began to do something that I had been doing for others but not necessarily doing for myself. I began to name and mourn my losses. I had been naming losses from a distance—from the view of what others have been experiencing: loss of jobs, loss of health, loss of loved ones, loss of celebrations (like proms, end of school year celebrations, and for seniors end of school career celebrations), and the like. But now, it was time for me to move from naming losses in general to naming specific losses. It was as if God was asking me, “I know what others have lost and you feel for them, but what have you lost?”
Let me be clear, I have much to be thankful for. Other than seasonal allergies, I and my family are well. As of now, Allison and I are doing our jobs differently, but we are still able to carry them out. Our children are still able to continue their college education, although not in person. Unless we’ve chosen to do so, we haven’t missed a meal. Again, there is much for which to be thankful.
But, if I mask my hurts and losses behind layers of thankfulness without truly naming them, then I’m not being honest with God or myself. In fact, I’m being extremely disingenuous about my reality. Perhaps going back to the Easter story can help us mourn our losses and enable us to move to authentic thankfulness and joy. After all, we are still in the season of resurrection.
In Luke 24 we read that on the day of Jesus’ resurrection two disciples (not two of the twelve disciples, but disciples nonetheless) were walking from Jerusalem to a village named Emmaus. One of them had the name of Cleopas. The other’s name is not given. Cleopas and the unnamed disciple were talking about all the things that had recently happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus drew near to them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. Jesus asked them what they discussing as they were walking. And when Jesus asked this, Scripture says, “they stood still, looking sad.” They were sad over their losses. They were brokenhearted. Listen to what happens next:
18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel (Luke 24-18-21a, English Standard Version).
I want you to notice that Jesus does not scold them for what they are discussing or for not recognizing him. Instead, he asks “What things?” He gives them space which allows them to name and mourn their losses, and they name those in detail. We shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus gives them space to mourn their losses in his presence. After all, the Psalmist tells us, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18, ESV).
You say, “But wait! Doesn’t Jesus call them foolish and slow of heart to believe?” after they have named their losses? Yes, he does. But you know what? I would rather be a fool who names his losses before God because I do not fully understand, than a dishonest person before God hiding behind layers of counterfeit thankfulness. I agree with Henri Nouwen that Jesus wasn’t saying, “You stupid people,” when he said they were being foolish. Jesus had seen and heard their sadness. He knows their spirits have been crushed. Surely Jesus’ remark is tender as he softly says, “Foolish people. So slow of heart to believe.” Perhaps by using such a strong word as “foolish” in a sensitive way, Jesus grabs their attention so they can now listen to him as he explains the scriptures to them.
26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:26-27, ESV).
By honestly naming and mourning their losses, they were able to break through to thankfulness and joy. After Jesus had vanished from their sight they exclaimed, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” And that same hour they rose with joy and returned to Jerusalem to tell the disciples about their experience (v. 32-34). It all started with honestly naming and mourning their losses. When they did so, Christ showed up.
I want to give you permission, in this season of COVID-19 and in all seasons of life, to honestly name your losses before God. I’ve been doing so ever since that melancholy Monday, and I’ve found it healing. It has allowed me room not only to grieve but to move to joy and gratitude. Let me say, it is not a “one and done” deal. Whenever that melancholy feeling washes over me, which it has a tendency to do in this season, I name my losses before God and give thanks that he is near and listening. Amen!
May the peace of Christ be with you.