How do we intentionally move into Holy Week after a year that has felt like a decade of grief and loss? A year ago, I was meeting regularly with a grief counselor to process the loss of my father. I can still vividly remember our last in-person meeting at the end of March with masks on thinking we would not see each other for a couple of weeks due to the pandemic. A year ago, I had recently taken a new ministry position as a chaplain in my hometown after living out of state for more than fifteen years prior. My son was rehearsing for his school play, having overcome his shy and nervous nature to get the lead role.
The past year has been marked with grief upon grief. I was laid off from my job, ultimately not returning to that position. My time moved from my ministry to the education of my children, which was in some ways delightful. Two weeks before my son’s show went into production, it was delayed, then canceled.
We all are going through a pandemic not knowing when it might end. At first, we convinced ourselves this would be a two-week hold on normal life. Many schools did not re-open normally, folks buried their dead and postponed funerals. We celebrated intimate outdoor weddings with the hope of a one-year anniversary celebration in the church. From the serious to the mundane, life looks noticeably different.
Then the time was marked with sickness and losses of life. Two matriarchs in my father’s family, my grandmother, and her sister died. The whole grief process was stunted – when they were sick they were not able to be with family, the meals and funerals looked so different than we would have planned. To say I come from a large family would be an understatement. My grandmother had fifteen children and her sister twelve. My grandmother’s descendants are more than 100, so the limiting of how many could be in the church and so many instead watching online was grief all its own.
In this grief upon grief, I also began to reflect on what was happening in my prayer life. Often, I could simply sit with Jesus and weep. I would read a short passage in scripture and then sit in silence. I did not try to find words beyond ‘Jesus, Oh Jesus’ or ‘be still,’ or ‘my soul, in stillness, waits.’ Other times I would listen to music and could dance. Bomba Estereo and Israel Houghton would carry me through this time as I’d sing along or just move to the music beyond words or explanation.
I was able to sit in the Good News of a Savior who accompanies us, who knows suffering and pain, who can offer a place for rest. As I enter Holy Week, I am invited to sit at the foot of the cross with Mary, the mother of a child who was persecuted, who encountered the depths of humanity’s sin at the cost of her son’s life. I sit with the remembering of Jesus as one who invites us to rest, who invites us to care and to be held in the midst of it all as one who has suffered unjustly at the hands of another. I can find rest with someone who understands the depths of the sadness and grief, who is a witness to my pain. The witness alone offers comfort.
Recently I watched the popular Amy Poehler movie, Moxie. As someone who was a teen in the 90’s I knew this movie would be a fun, feel-good nostalgic hang. The movie did not disappoint but also held a powerful moment that illustrates the way a community can tenderly hold grief. In a final scene, a young woman anonymously tells a community of young women in her school that she was raped. In a show of solidarity with their anonymous sister, the teens stage a walk-out and rally outside the school. The planning did not go beyond the walk-out itself, but some shared stories of the unfair treatment and other frustrations. Several minutes into the impromptu rally, the young woman decides to come forward to name that it was her who was raped and anonymously reached out for help. Not sure what to say, she says that she just wants to scream. The crowd gets quiet and someone says, ‘We believe you’ and someone else says ‘you can scream if you want to.’ She screams and the crowd listens, holding her in her screaming. And then they scream with her.
The Moxie scream is unique and precious. They do not try to address this injustice at that moment or to console her in a way that makes her stop talking. It’s clear that no one knows what to do, but also that she is not alone. They hear her scream – and then they scream with her. In this time of so much grief, pain, and unresolved frustration, we hold the pain without the promise of a resolution. This is true for so many people, but we are called to be a community that will let you scream, and will scream with you. Such is the disciples as they sit with the death of Jesus. Though we know the promise of resurrection, they are in this place of unknowing and grief.
One of the most impactful rituals for me is spending time with my family creating our annual Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) altar. Usually, we are able to gather to mourn those who die, celebrate their lives with others who love them and tell their stories for all those present to hear. As we gather their pictures, the things they loved, and the things that remind us what we loved about them, we create space to weep, say their names, and pray for them knowing that God hears, and the cloud of witnesses is present to our mourning. Building an altar in our homes is an authentic experience of the desolation in the losses of this past year –of naming and acknowledging the death not knowing when the resurrection will come, to be in community with each other at the foot of the cross, not knowing what resurrection will look like.
Being a people in the shadow of hope is an essential part of the Easter story. Jesus’ disciples did not know for sure Jesus would be resurrected. What they did know was the grief and loss of someone they loved and still needed with them. Author Austin Channing Brown of I’m Still Here frames the current racial reckoning in understanding that things may not get significantly better in our lifetime. Living in the shadow of hope as a Christian, we acknowledge that will have many experiences of hope dying, live in times without the promise of hope, and can be brave enough to name the loss of hope. In claiming this as part of the faith journey, we can gather and know the need of our beloved community to hold us in a place of desolation. As we gather and say the names of the dead, we are bound to each other, as a people who know a Savior who lived in the shadow of hope, disciples not knowing if or when the resurrection would come.
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