Sorrow Will Turn into JoyJohn 16:16-22 (NRSV)
“A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.” Then some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying to us, ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” They said, “What does he mean by this ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Are you discussing among yourselves what I meant when I said, ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’? Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.
Sometimes, the stories that we hear in the Bible can be confusing. Once, when Jesus was talking with his friends, he said to them, “You will see me, then you won’t see me, then you will see me again. And you’ll be sad, but then your sadness will turn into joy.” What? “You will see me, then you won’t see me, then you will see me again. And you’ll be sad, but then your sadness will turn into joy?” Was Jesus playing a game of “hide and go seek?”
Actually, Jesus knew that he would be leaving the disciples, and he knew that life as they knew it would be changing. But he also knew that, even though they would be sad and they would grieve over losing him, in the end, they would find joy as they learned through their faith and through all that Jesus had taught them to live lives of gratitude.
Friends, during the height of the pandemic, especially during the times of quarantine and shutdown when churches and schools and many workplaces closed, we needed to learn new ways of living our everyday lives. We had to get used to wearing masks and seeing other people wearing masks. We were separated from family and friends, except through phone and zoom calls. We weren’t able to go to school or church. We had to learn how to use online learning and virtual worship. We even needed to find new ways to shop for the things we needed. Folks, because of that, during the last year and a half, we have all experienced times of grief, frustration, anxiety, and just plain sadness.
Not only were we unable to worship together in person, but we were unable to gather in the church for weddings, and baptisms, and funerals. And even now that we have begun coming back together, things continue to be different. For in-person worship, we still wear masks, because we are trying to keep everyone as safe as we can–especially our young people who have not had a chance to be vaccinated yet. And we have not returned to many of the things that we used to do, like passing the peace and sharing in fellowship during coffee hour.
And one of the saddest things at our church is we have empty pews that were once filled. Some pews are empty because families have changed their Sunday morning routines, and others are empty because friends and loved ones have died. Many of our hearts are still filled with grief and sadness, and yet we are here, worshiping and praying and singing and praising God because our faith teaches us that God is with us in the midst of our grief and our frustration and our sadness and our anxiety, helping us to see the gifts of grace that are all around us and leading us to live lives of gratitude.
This week in our sanctuary, we have a single red rose on our altar to remember our friend June Clavette on the one-year anniversary of her passing. We often use a single red rose in Oldtown to remember. Now, June was an important part of our church for a long time. She and her husband Ed were like two peas in a pod, and you didn’t often see one without the other. They raised their children, Alan and Kait, in Oldtown, and together they worked on the yard sales, church suppers, fairs, coffeehouses, thanksgiving breakfasts for the marching band, and pet clinics, as well as taking care of the grounds, playing the chimes, and singing in our Oldtown choir. And June always kept the tradition going, making Dottie Greene’s cinnamon twists for our bake tables. Pre-pandemic, June never missed one of our Tuesday morning Coffee Connections where she would do puzzles, tell stories about her favorite donkey growing up, and singing silly songs.
As a special way of remembering, Ed has taken a bunch of June’s t-shirts and made a quilt out of them, piecing together a bunch of wonderful memories to cherish. After all, there were lots and lots of things that June was involved in: the Williams Chorale, the North Attleboro band parents, Attleboro Community Theater, Camp Dennen, the Community of Christ Camp in Onset. She worked at Hyman Fine Elementary School, Brennan Middle School, and Stop & Shop, and she spent lots of fun days with her family, camping, lobstering, and scuba diving. She loved going to yard sales and going out to eat. I even hear that, back in the day, June and Ed used to make dandelion and cranberry wine!
Friends, the three things that I think about the most when I think of June are the pride she took in her kids, the love she had for Ed, and the way that whenever you asked her how she was, she would always reply, “Ugly mean and nasty,” which meant she was good.
Friends, are we filled with grief at losing June? Yes. But are we also filled with gratitude for who June was and all the time we shared with her? Absolutely!
There is an ancient Japanese art called Kintsugi. Kintsugi is all about taking broken pottery pieces and putting them back together. But that is not all because the cracks and the broken edges are highlighted with gold. You see, the art of Kintsugi embraces the broken edges, the flaws, and the imperfections. And in so doing, it creates an even stronger and more beautiful piece of art.
Friends, we have all been through so much as individuals and as a church in the last year and a half. And we can’t simply forget about our grief and our pain thinking that it will just go away. Because sometimes it is in the process of working through our sadness and our grief, remembering and naming the parts of us that feel broken, that allows us to create a new wholeness for ourselves. No, it’s not the same as it was, but sometimes we actually become more unique, and beautiful and resilient when we learn to embrace both our Grief and our Gratitude together.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!