Sometimes, during a difficult change or transition, the ending looms so large in our hearts, souls, and minds that all we can feel is grief. Certainly, this must have been the experience of Jesus’s family and followers on Good Friday. The end of his earthly life was so violent, so excruciating, so definite. And yet, for God, nothing is impossible. No ending is so definite that it cannot also be a new beginning.
As we walk with Jesus during this 2021 Lenten season, grief looms large. On Monday, according to the New York Times, we reached a staggering milestone here in the United States when we surpassed 500,000 known COVID-19 related deaths. The tears we have shed over the last year – for loved ones lost, loved ones we cannot hug, loved ones in danger as essential workers, loved one struggling with addiction – these tears must be enough to fill the Great Lakes.
Sometimes, when we encounter a painful ending, when grief looms large, it is so uncomfortable that we want to rush towards a new beginning. We want to jump right from Good Friday to Easter morning – skipping Saturday completely. But our tradition calls that Saturday “Holy.” The day that Jesus is dead and gone, really gone, is called Holy Saturday. I don’t know how that day got its name, but I like to think it’s because our tears, our grief can be holy. Our pain and fear can tell us something about what really matters, what we really love, what we don’t want to live without. Often, our grief is born of great love.
In these next five weeks, before we encounter the Risen Jesus once again, Lent gives us the opportunity to sit with our own endings, grief, fear, temptation, and pain. On the surface that seems terribly depressing. And it can be if it leads us to despair. But in the context of prayer and community it can also lead us into a deeper reliance on God, a clarification of what and whom we love most deeply, and a strengthening of tenacious hope.
This Lent also marks a particular ending for St. John’s as a parish. Sunday will be my last day as your Director of Children and Family Ministries. It is an ending. And it is a new beginning, for both of us. I’ll be entering a season of rest and restoration – focusing on better management of my chronic health challenges. And you’ll be entering a season of discernment. It is an opportunity to reflect on what has been most meaningful, formative, and lifegiving about St. John’s Children and Family Ministries over the past few years and what might have been missing.
The departure of a leader – be it a lay professional, a volunteer, or a clergy person – always creates an empty space. Some of you have (kindly) said there will be big shoes to fill after Sunday. My greatest hope is that my departure will create not a void, but an opening. That together over the last eighteen months we have created a foundation and this opening will lead to new leaders stepping up to share their God-given gifts.
It is a good and a right and a holy thing to sit in the grief of this ending. Perhaps this sadness is an indicator of how much we love each other. And all the while, we can be held in the assurance that with God nothing is impossible. No ending is so definite that it cannot also be a new beginning.