As many of you may already know, we received a phone call in the middle of the night on March 19 telling us that my wife’s sister had suddenly, and unexpectedly, passed away. To say that the news was traumatic would be an understatement.
Trauma has a way of doing a number on you. It is crazy how things can go from smooth to chaotic in a matter of seconds. One minute you are doing fine, and then the next minute everything has changed as a result of…
- A sudden death
- An accident
- An unexpected diagnosis
- Suddenly being fired
- Or a variety of other reasons
Sometime, we see it coming. Sometimes, we see it coming and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Life just slows down and you see the train a coming, it’s coming round the bend, but you know you can stop it. You also know that it is going to hit you square in the chest. Yet, even when you see it coming, it is still hard to take.
- A long time illness ending in death
- A person who seems like they would live forever passing away
- The need to close or restart a church
Then, after the trauma is over, we have to figure out how to pick up the pieces, and that can be quite a process. This is because there are stages of grieving the loss of the ideal, and not everyone goes through them at the same time, at the same speed, or in the same way.
We start off in shock and denial, trying to rationalize the irrational that just occurred in our life, overwhelmed with what just took place. This gives way to pain and guilt, where we begin to list things that we think we should/should not have done. It is also when we begin to feel the full weight of the whatever happened. Yet, it’s also at this point we either try to just keep ourselves busy, or we seek to self-medicate, rather than acknowledging the pain we are going through. We will do anything we can not to feel the full weight of the trauma.
We may move into a time of anger and blame, and the crazy thing is that we often unleash that at people who have nothing to do with what happened. It might be someone who is trying to help us move forward or pick up the pieces. It might be someone who just is at the wrong place at the wrong time. When someone is in this stage of grief, offering the words of Isaiah 43:18-19, probably isn’t the best idea. Saying something like, “Come on, man, just forget what happened in the past, don’t dwell on that stuff. God’s got a plan for all this,” could potentially get you killed.
Just when our friends may think you should be getting on with our life, a long period of sad reflection will likely overtake us. The crazy thing is that encouragement from others sometimes is not helpful to us during this stage. During this time, we finally realize the true magnitude of our loss, and it just depresses us. Life will never be the same, and we begin to full realize this fact. We may isolate ourselves on purpose, reflect on things we did before the trauma, and focus on memories of the past.
The reality is that we all have to go through the grief of loss. Yet, we often don’t want to, or sometimes we just get stuck in one of the stages and don’t move forward. For instance, we might deny acknowledging the pain and get stuck in a cycle of self-medication. We might also just begin to live in the past and constantly celebrate memories of before the trauma and/or constantly talk about how it “used to be.” We might just stay angry: at the person who caused the trauma, at God, and at everyone else. Going through the stages is a healthy part of grieving, but being stuck in one stage and not moving on is not.
As we process, things do begin to change. We can begin to adjust to our new normal and move forward. We do become more functional, and our minds do start working again. We learn to accept and deal with the reality of our new normal. Now this does not necessarily mean instant happiness. Given the trauma that we have experienced, but we do find a way forward.
So why talk about this at all this? I don’t know about you, but I need to hear that there is a process when dealing with the realities of life, and that it is healthy go go through the process.
Sadly, there are many times that people, sometimes even Christians, deny a process at all. They will read scriptures like Isaiah 43:16-21 or Philippians 3:7-14, and then tell people, “Life is hard, but God is good, so you can just get over whatever you are going through, quit looking back and start looking forward, because it will all be okay.” However, I don’t believe that this would be helpful to many of us who are going through things in life that are hard right now. To be honest, If I told you that everything was going to be okay, you might just look at me and, like Thomas, say, “Oh yeah, Prove it!”
You see, in John 20:24-29, we encounter a grieving Thomas. In the text immediately preceding this one, the disciples had all gathered in a locked room, for fear of the Jews, and the resurrected Jesus appeared and said, “Peace be with you.” He showed them that he was alive, and they moved very quickly from shock and denial to acceptance and rejoicing. Jesus was alive! This was most certainly a game changer!
Yet, Thomas wasn’t there. Thomas didn’t have an encounter with the resurrected Jesus. We don’t know where Thomas was at this point, whether he had run to the store to get some bread or if he just needed to go for a long walk, but we know that he was not in the room when Jesus first appeared.
So, when he did come back around the other disciples, and they told him the news of Jesus being alive, he just couldn’t believe it. Though there are at least ten folks, that he did life with and trusted, standing there and telling him that Jesus was alive, Thomas didn’t believe them. He had to see it for himself. So, he looked at them and said, “I need proof.”
Thomas was grieving. Though Scripture didn’t say it directly, I am sure that he was just trying to wrap his head around what was happening. Thomas had seen all the miracles and wonders. His ears heard the voice of God. He had a front-row seat as Lazarus rose from the dead by only a few words from his teacher. At one point, he, not Peter, was ready to go and die with Jesus.
But Thomas had also just seen his teacher and friend taken away. He had seen Jesus murdered, dead, and buried. The darkness of unbelief and doubt swirled around in Thomas’s head like a storm. His faith certainly had wilted and shriveled up. Like a broken record, the words of the religious leaders replayed in his head. “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Why didn’t Jesus save himself? Why didn’t Jesus fight for himself? Maybe Jesus wasn’t the Messiah they had thought he was.
So, the words, “We have seen the Lord” were not comforting to Thomas. They were salt in a fresh, deep wound. If Thomas was to ever believe again, there would need to be concrete proof.
Yet, in the midst of Thomas’ pain and doubt, Jesus showed up, looks Thomas square in the eye, and says, “Peace be with you.” These are the same words that Jesus said to his disciples when he first appeared to them as well. Why? He wanted Thomas, and the others, to realize that it will be okay, that we can have peace in the midst of life’s craziest storms because He is with us in it.
Now, notice what Jesus didn’t do when he appeared before Thomas. He didn’t wack him on the head and say, “You IDIOT! Why didn’t you believe the others?” He didn’t tell him to just get over it. Rather, He came with love and compassion, in the midst of his trauma and grief, and gave him just what he needed, His peaceful presence. Jesus invited Thomas to touch Him, to experience Him, and to know that He is Lord even in the midst of the chaos of life.
The storms and the trauma happens because we live in a broken and sinful world. Sometimes, they come as a result of something that we do as a result of our brokenness, but many times they come just as a result of the brokenness around us. Jesus comes into our broken situation and give us peace. He invites us, like Thomas, to touch him and know that we are not alone.
Honestly, that happens every time we come to the Lord’s Table. It happens every time we hear His Word. It also happens every time we encounter another believer. Christ comes to us through His Body and Blood, in His Word, and through the presence of other believers to let us know that we are not alone, that he is present with us. As we encounter Him, we are reminded that he has overcome our brokenness, that he was sacrificed for our sin. That is why he had to go to the cross. Through His life, death, and resurrection, we can have hope and peace as we deal with, and process through, our trauma. As he says in John 16:33, “In the world you’ll have trouble. But cheer up! I have overcome the world.”
He invites us to hear His Words, “Don’t be afraid, because I am with you. Don’t be intimidated; I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will support you with my victorious right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). “When you go through the sea, I am with you. When you go through rivers, they will not sweep you away. When you walk through fire, you will not be burned, and the flames will not harm you. I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:2-3a).
Christ is with us in the midst of our trauma and grief, saying to us, “Peace be with you.” He is with us as we go through the grieving process. While we go through it, He is inviting us to come to Him, rest in Him, and heal in His presence each and every day. He makes all things new, gives us hope, and gives us peace in the pain. He is the one who enables us, like Paul, to get to a point where we have faith and confidence even in the midst of our suffering. To a place where we don’t look back, only look forward, and strive for the prize that God’s heavenly call offers us in Christ Jesus.
He also invites us to go into the highways and byways, into the streets and the allies, and invite those in our community who are hurting without hope to encounter the resurrected Jesus and experience His peace as well. He is inviting us to go and connect others to Him so that they too may be restored and made new, just as he is doing so with us. As he comes into our lives and says “Peace be with you,” he calls us to go out and be agents of peace in this chaotic world, most of the time before we are ready to really do so. Yet he does call us to walk with others, and not leave them in their trauma nor smack them over the head and tell them to get over it. Rather, he is calling us, His Church, to walk alongside people and be a peaceful presence in their lives, to help them process what they have been through however that may look, and to point them to the one that can heal their pain, forgive their pasts, and give them the hope of a new life, Jesus Christ.
Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. Amen.
Stages of Grief: https://www.recover-from-grief.com/7-stages-of-grief.html
Devotion for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, “Prove It,” in the Saint/Sinner Lenten Devotional by Kyle Jones and Kathryn Strauch