Blessed are those who mourn
When I took a break from ministry to stay home to raise my small children, I met my friend Maris.
She was a transplant to the area, born and raised in Birmingham, AL.
She loved the arts and teaching; she was a broad minded Roman Catholic and a faithful Christian.
Most of all, she was great mom and a beautiful person.
Maris quickly became like a sister to me.
We had playdates several times a week and watched each others’ children.
We got together on Friday night, put all the kids to sleep in a big bed upstairs,
and told stories or laughed long into the night with our husbands.
We cooked meals for each other and shared truck loads of mulch and volunteered at school together.
We sang together in a local choir, and hosted block parties together.
The year Maris adopted two more children from Russia, however, things began to change.
The adoption had gone much faster than expected, and the children were a bit older as well,
so when all was said and done Maris suddenly had four children between the ages of 3 and 5.
Parenting became more demanding.
They had no relatives nearby.
It was harder and harder to hold the family together.
I guess I should have seen the hand writing on the wall, but I was shocked when Maris told me
they would be moving back to Alabama.
There were so many things about her that I come to associate as a fixture in my life;
it was hard to imagine life at school or in the neighborhood without her.
I wondered if maybe it was a sign that I should leave, too.
I felt sad and abandoned , as if she preferred her family to me, even though I knew she loved me
and that it wasn’t that kind of choice.
I didn’t say any of these things to Maris because I didn’t want to hurt her or make it harder for her to go.
I silently mourned her departure and all that she had meant to me.
But on her last day, we sat outside on my backyard patio and it all came out:
How hard it was for her to leave, how much she loved me and her life there
but that she needed the stability of her family and the pull that she felt toward home.
We cried as we shared about how God gave us to each other
and our sadness at the end of this special time in our lives.
We laughed through our tears as we remembered all the gifts of our friendship,
the birthday parties and crazy cakes and walks through the snow and conversations during swim lessons.
It was hard to say goodbye, but it was good to talk about all the things were grateful for
and sharing our sadness with one another lifted the load and brought an unexpected lightness to our hearts.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” Jesus said.
Blessed can also be translated as “happy.”
We don’t usually think of mourning as a happy state;
it is something we’d like to avoid if possible.
If we could hold onto those we love forever, we would!
But when I think of that last day with Maris, I think I understand something about what Jesus was getting at
in this famous statement from the sermon on the mount.
It was a hard day—saying goodbye to Maris and all she represented to me
but it was also a good day because we acknowledged openly the gifts that God had given us in one another.
We were happy to remember all those gifts and to give thanks for them, one by one.
We were indeed ‘blessed.’
It’s been over 50th years since the ground breaking book, Good Grief by Granger Westberg was published.
In it he outlines 10 stages in the grieving process, a first in understanding the dynamics of grief.
Later Elizabeth Kubler Ross summarized the experience in five:
denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
Whatever analytics you choose, grief is a journey that you move through at your own pace
cycling through different emotions, revisiting others.
Throughout, however, there are moments of grace.
Mourning loss causes one to reflect on things we might otherwise take for granted.
It gives us an opportunity to say the things that most important: I love you, I forgive you, and Thank you.
And so in the end, grief can be good.
Like Maris and I remembering our times together, grieving can be a time of support and a litany of blessings.
Today is almost my last Sunday with you.
Next week is confirmation, so we are focusing on the conclusion of our shared ministry today.
And it has been a shared ministry—you all have brought your enthusiasm and energy,
your passion for children and hospitality and serving the community--
and together we have built this place called Our Savior’s.
There has been mutual support and prayer, and much joy and laughter.
Now things are changing.
I will go to a new church, and you will receive a new pastor.
And as such, it is a time of mourning the end of our ministry together.
Part of the grief process is individual—sorting through feelings and examining past events--
but part of the process is shared.
Some of you have spoken with me individually; others have tapped into council leadership for support.
Today we experience a communal aspect of mourning.
Today we bring this transition before one another and God,
acknowledging our need for God’s support and direction, remembering all God has done among us.
It is a day of sharing stories and gratitude with one another, giving thanks to God as our hearts overflow.
This past summer when I traveled to Alabama, I got to visit Maris in her home
for the first time since she had moved 8 years ago.
I arrived late at night, and it felt a little strange.
I think we were both aware that the relationship was different—
We weren’t neighbors anymore, we don’t talk every day.
But the next morning it was evident that the important things in our relationship remained.
As we shared stories about the kids and made breakfast, it was clear our bond was still there;
we were still soul sisters.
We picked up our relationship where we left off in a new way.
It was a great blessing.
After next week, we won’t be pastor and people anymore.
But we will still be soul sisters and brothers.
God has knit our souls together, and part of that fabric will always stay.
But God is also doing a new thing here.
In our grief and in our joy, God continues to make space for a new beginning, new growth, new people.
God enlarges our hearts through giving us people for a season.
Today we open ourselves to God’s change.
We can entrust ourselves and one another to God, and trust that God will be with us to our journey’s end
and that we will indeed be blessed.