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On our search for meaning …

A reflection on Luke 1:46-55

A fundamental part of being human is our ongoing search in every phase for identity, for intimacy, for involvement in the world around us by creating and nurturing things that will outlast our very limited life spans. 

Throughout Scripture, we hear again and again this phrase “from generation to generation” which speaks of our need to have something of who we are and what we have contributed to our family, to our community, to our society endure beyond ourselves as we enter an unimagined, and maybe unimaginable, eternity. 

Our search for significance is epitomised in our customs around grief as loved ones all gather together to tell stories of how the deceased’s life somehow fundamentally changed us, made the world a better place; and to receive the comfort that they live on in the eternal arms of God and in the legacies that they leave. 

No funeral is sadder than the one where there are no nice words to offer, no pleasant memories to hold on to – or, as we reflected on in one of last week’s images – where the dead are unclaimed, buried in mass graves, simply gone and forgotten.

From the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, and shaped and formed us for relationship with one another and with all that was part of the very good, we have searched for our particular place in the universe, for the unique gift that I, Yvonne, or you (insert your name) have to offer this interconnected symphony of time and place.

We hear the rhythm of significance resound today in the heartbeat of the Christ child within his mother’s womb – causing another to leap for joy! And in the song of praise that pours out of Mary – an unlikely person to be thought of as significant in her time and place at all. 

A young Jewish woman in a patriarchal society ruled by the Romans, from a lineage of priests, bound to a carpenter from Israel’s smallest tribe, bearing the disgrace of having fallen pregnant outside of marriage, would have had little to offer the world in terms of wealth or or influence or power. 

Yet, she gives voice to a God who brings down the powerful to lift up the lowly, who fills the lives of those who have nothing with good things while sending those who have everything away empty-handed, who shows strength in mercy, and scatters the proud while holding firm to the promises to those who would give up all and follow.

How does she know all this? 

Because God has chosen her in her lowliness to become known as blessed and to carry within her the blessing of salvation for a world for which she really should have very little to offer.

Significance. 

Every person, regardless of age or gender, religious affiliation or sexual preference, tribe or language, bank balance or level of education, ability or occupation is significant to God in ways that we will never ever even begin to understand. 

And being part of the people of God, people made in love in the Divine image, people on the way to a much-needed kingdom of perfect peace and justice, means being open to how God might be working out God’s purposes in and through another … often in opposition to what we think is right or normal or logical or important. 

It also means that God probably has a particular purpose for me (and you), a part that we must play in this particular time and place for the good news song to be coherent and whole in this generation and the next.

As Mary’s soul magnifies the Lord and her spirit rejoice in God, her Saviour, I find myself wondering today just what surprises God has in store for us and what significance your love, your faith, your life story might have in this ongoing and uncertain time. 

In his book, “Man’s search for meaning,” Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how.’” What is your “why” for living right now? And what is our “why” for being church? 

In the rhythms of love and the rhythms of loss within the world right now, may we find too the rhythms of significance that keep us moving, dancing, laughing, together, in Jesus’ name.      

Tuesday: take time to grieve

Today, I conducted my first funeral in this unsettling time of social isolation. It is a tough time to grieve. Both for the less than 10 who are able to gather together and for those unable to offer the comfort of physical presence and support. 

It felt appropriate for this time of excruciating grief to use the Gospel story from this past Sunday for the darkness of death and the hope of resurrection are central to the Christian faith. 

So just a few thoughts for those working through grief and loss at the moment ….

Unlike the other texts, in John’s Gospel (chapter 20, verses 1 to 18) it seems as though Mary is alone at the tomb – there in the dark of dawn and the deeper darkness of her heart ache and sorrow. 

She was one of the eye-witnesses to Jesus’s slow and agonising death on the cross and those images lie heavily upon her – along with the rawness of her grief and the empty unimagined future that lies ahead of her and, in fact, all of the disciples. 

When she discovers that the stone has been rolled away, she does not think immediately of all the promises and prophecies that Jesus would die and – in three days – rise again but simply that in this very broken and unfair world that she has experienced of late someone has hidden his body so that they cannot grieve, they cannot remember, they cannot worship as they would like.

When she goes to the room where the others are staying safe behind closed doors, looking for comfort, looking for help, Peter and John run off ahead of her. And, once they have discovered that what she has said is true – that the body is gone – they return to their sanctuary.

Mary, alone, stays in the cold and lifeless place, the empty place, overwhelmed by her tears.

In the immediacy of death, our sorrow often feels completely overwhelming as we wrestle with the loss of the physical presence of a person we loved dearly, process some of the unresolved emotions and brokenness of relationships that occur, and ask deep questions about the eternal. 

There will come a time when we will be able to remember and laugh at how a loved one brought life alive for us; when the tears do not blur our ability to look at the past and at the future and see clearly that they remain present with us in every moment.

But, on that first day of waking up to a new reality, it really hurts. It hurts to no longer hold on to the one we have lost. It hurts that his or her body no longer draws breath. It hurts that they, like so many of our hopes and dreams, have been turned to dust to be returned to the earth and the eternity of God.

As resurrection people, I believe that God would have us take time to acknowledge the darkness, to feel the loss of those loves and lights that have been of great significance in our lives, to let the tears come, and the questions weigh heavily upon us.

In our grief we can take the time that we need knowing that there is a change in this Scripture story when Jesus calls Mary by her name and Mary, in turn, names him by the essence of who he is and what he means to her: “Rabboni” or “Teacher.” 

Death cannot deny or destroy the intimacy of lives so long shared. 

It does not have the final word. 

The darkness will turn to dawn. 

The stone will be rolled away. 

The stories will change from the anguished, “I don’t know where they have put him” to “I have seen the Lord.” 

For those who are mourning in strange ways in this moment, 
may you know that the same arms which welcome your loved one 
into God’s eternal peace, 
bear you through the sorrows 
and the longings of the time to come. 
In your memories, 
may his or her life star always shine bright. 
In your hearts, 
may their love always be in full bloom.

With much love,
Yvonne

Saturday: undone

As I sit down in the silent gloom of this morning, I am deeply aware that, for many, this is a time of great loss and loneliness. 

For some, the grief is raw and fresh; for others, it is a deep ache that has settled within their bones over many years. 

For some, tears flow freely; while others choke on bitterness and anger and regret.

For some, what must be let go of makes room for something new tomorrow; for others, there is no sense of being able to go on tomorrow without the one that they have lost. 

For myself, in this moment of darkness in which I reflect on my own life in light of a body sealed, cold and breathless, in a borrowed tomb … 

I dip my hands 
into the pool of tears,
and let each unwept drop 
drip
from my fingertips.
Their ripples shimmer
across my calm reflection
until, 
at last, 
I am undone. 

May we be undone on this black Saturday 
in the knowledge that, gently, God goes with us 
until the rains are over and gone
and the winter of our grief is past. 

Sending much love,
Yvonne