The world feels heavy with grief right now, doesn’t it? As war rages, bills rise and we survey the wreckage of the covid-19 pandemic. It can be hard to hope amidst the grief, and we can struggle to know how or even if we are allowed to grieve as people of hope.
Sometimes, we can be led to believe that grieving is somehow ‘unchristian’, and yet the call of Paul was not that christians shouldn’t grieve, but that we should grieve with hope. But what does it mean to grieve with hope?
I believe that the first step is to admit that grieving is holy work, that it is a natural and vital response to the losses of life. We have reduced it to something only experienced by those mourning a death; but there are countless losses that we go through and these losses deserve to be grieved before we can begin to imagine a future beyond the loss. Accepting our reality – even when it is painful allows us space to begin to hope.
The second step is to bring that grief before God. Throughout scripture we see people calling out their grief; from Nehemiah’s weeping over the destroyed walls of Jerusalem to Jesus weeping over the same city years later, grieving to God allows us to invite him into our pain.
It’s what our Jewish friends do so well through their practices of mourning; from sitting shi’vah in the aftermath of a bereavement to the thirty days of mourning which follows, these well worn practices give a language and structure to the wildest days of early loss.
And the third step is to bring the loss and hope together. This is seen most beautifully in the Psalms; where there is a section called “Songs of Ascent”. It was believed to be written by the returning exiles as they looked back to the goodness of God in the past and returned home to a land that was now alien to them. Psalm 126 has this rhythm of sowing tears and reaping joy throughout it and it shows us that it is impossible to separate the two – we cannot have joy without first expressing our grief.
Furthermore, this sowing of tears and reaping joy is something to be done as a community. We have to come together both to grieve and rejoice because God designed us to work best when we are connected to Him and connected to one another. We see it again in Romans, the call to ‘weep with those who weep’ and ‘rejoice with those who rejoice’ is one which reminds us that we don’t get to opt out one another’s pain – and neither do we miss their rejoicing. Whether now is your time to rejoice, or a time of weeping; we need to be able to find people to stand with us as we bring our whole selves to God.
Today we weep with those in Ukraine, those still isolated and shielding due to covid-19, those struggling to make ends meet – and we hold onto hope for those who cannot yet hold their own. We grieve because our world is so far from Eden, and yet we hope because our God does not abandon us.