Sermon by Pastor Joel Crouse
Sunday November 5, 2023
All Saints Sunday
Today, we have one of the most beautiful and comforting lessons that Jesus gave us: the Beatitudes, the blessings listed by Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount. In it, Jesus makes a list of promises to those who may feel that life is stacked against them. But on this Sunday, on the week leading up to Remembrance Day, on the Sunday of All Saints when we remember our dead, I want to focus on one part of this list of blessings.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”
What an impossible promise that seems in our darkest days, in these dark and difficult days for the world. We see such acts of terror, such suffering; we bear witness to atrocities happening far away that become anger and hatred here in our own country. How easy it is for grief to consume us, for death to mark us, for joy to desert us.
In these moments, that line from Jesus seems insufficient. How hard it is, in the midst of grief and loss, for us to cling to it. Like the thoughts and prayers that get spoken but don’t come with policy and decision-making and change.
Perhaps you have had days when it felt that laughter seemed to have fled forever. I have, in my family. I know that there are families in our church who have and, often still feel that way. We, in our place of relative safety, can only imagine what it must be like for the victims of the Hamas atrocity, for the Palestinian civilians caught in the crossfire, for the families in Lewiston who must now face the real-world consequences of another shooting spree. Those who have lost, who must go on in the now after, who must face what comes next, are weeping. We all face loss, in one way or another in our lives. If that awareness of loss cannot inspire us to do more than pray, to be more than thoughtful, then I do not know what will. Grief is an unwanted, and yet universal visitor in all our lives, a weight upon all our souls. And a necessary part of life.
That is at the heart of the promise that Jesus makes to us. Not that we will laugh tomorrow, or next week, or perhaps even next month. But that we will laugh again. In my family, after the loss of my brother, it happened when we least expected it and caught us by surprise. It sounded loud and out of place in our lives; we were out of practice. I know other people I have counselled in grief have described the same feeling – that laughter was not permitted in sadness, that it was wrong to feel happy, that looking to the future with any kind of expectation made them feel guilty.
But that is what Jesus is speaking to: the release from guilt. He is reminding us that it is inevitable that we will laugh again, that it is expected of us, and that it is promised to us. We should not feel guilty when that happens; we should feel blessed. For we have walked through darkness and crossed into light. We may bear the scars. But when the day comes, we have not been stripped of the gift of laughter.
But there is space between weeping and laughter that this line from Jesus leaves unspoken. We do not get there alone. We get there, as I well know, when we have faith that God is by our side, and friends who sit with us in our moment of need, who show up with lasagna, who understand us without prying, and who love us even when we are hard to be around. That is how we get to the other side.
And we can say the same for all our grief, and all our troubles. It is not prayers from afar that get us through it; or thoughts sent into the air. It is the real presence of God and the loving actions of others. A response of love that suggests peace may be yet possible. A call for justice that suggests policy can be changed to protect the innocent. A willingness to find the truth together, the way forward together. Otherwise we are trapped in our grief.
In our gospel this morning, Jesus also flips his blessing around: “Woe to you, Jesus warns his crowd, who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.”
That sounds harsh. But it’s not a curse, it is a guide, a reminder that upon all of us grief will fall. So when we are strong and laughing, what should we do? We who live in comfort should have care for the afflicted. That is the society that the gospel envisions: one in which those in need today receive help from those able to give. We all have a part to play, and different roles at different times, depending on where we find ourselves in life.
What can we give those who weep? We can give the gift of solidarity. Or action. And, as we do each year, on November 11, we can give the gift of memory. We can give it when we stand at the cenotaph on November 11, remembering sacrifice. When we take time to hear the stories of those soldiers not remembered. When we make a commitment to learn something from those memories – whether it be the price of hatred and intolerance, or the cost of war, or the tragic fallout when the needs of the wounded are not met. Lessons the world still needs to learn.
And as we think about our personal losses and the 12 people who died in our community of faith this year, we can also share the gift of memory. To talk to one another about loss. To ask people how to help them in their grief. “How are you doing with all of this?” we might ask. “How are you holding up?” To put aside our own discomfort, or our fear of death, or our own worry about saying the wrong thing, and help someone burdened by grief.
Perhaps that is the real beauty of the blessing from God that Jesus promises to us. That in bringing laughter to those who weep, we also laugh. And, in that community, all our sadness becomes easier to bear.
We can believe in the resurrection and still be caught up in grief for those lost to us on earth. Jesus is telling us not to feel guilty about that, not to feel weak, or lost. “You will laugh again.” Jesus says. And in doing so, Jesus gives us the freedom to truly, deeply grieve.
Sit this week with your thoughts. About all those men and women lost to war. About the families they left behind. About a loved one who is no longer physically with you. And know that the resurrection is real, that God’s promise of new life is real, that Jesus’s words are real. But the only way through is a path we walk together. Amen