An important thing to acknowledge first: Jesus was grieving. In the words before today’s reading, John the Baptist’s violent death by beheading at Herod’s Birthday party is told in detail. This is the news Jesus has just heard and he withdraws to a deserted place to be alone in his sadness. Jesus is grieving.
We are grieving. As I have listened and thought about what people have been experiencing over these past four plus months, grieving may be the most accurate word.
- So many grieve the deaths of loved ones from the virus or related complications. We all grieve the 689,000+ deaths from the virus across the world that are more than numbers, that are individuals with lives, experiences and loved ones, from whom they are gone.
- We grieve for elders, more at risk and therefore many who are isolated, alone, confused, afraid, together with those challenged to care for them and families and friends separated from them.
- We grieve with those who are more severely affected, those who are poor, homeless, addicted, people of the queer community, indigenous, black, brown, and other racialized people, because of systems of racism and inequity that remain in our world, nation, neighbourhoods, and ourselves, and all the ways these prejudices, their present and their history, have been exposed by the pandemic, and people, a world rising up together in grief, and pain and frustration and anger to say, “Enough!” to see a world of disparity dismantled and a new world of equality rising. Please God!, let it be so.
- We grieve the deaths of loved ones in this strange time and the added losses of not being able to gather, to hold one another, to share food and comfort and remember together as before.
- We grieve the loss of being together with family, friends and loved ones, many whom we still cannot see in-person.
- We grieve for community, church community, in-person worship, communion, social and learning and service times together; and other communities of common interests, activities, sports, recreation that are limited or not possible in this time.
- We grieve losses in work, livelihood, income, security, shelter and food, access to education, childcare, support for those with mental illness, differently able and challenged.
- We grieve other losses, that we recognize as luxuries and out of reach for many, like travel and vacations, eating out, and cultural and artistic activities and events.
- We grieve for routines and activities and ways of being together and doing things that have changed, for now or for how long or forever, we don’t know.
- And I am sure there is more that we grieve for, that I have not recognized or fail to see or is of your or another’s experience, for refugees and displaced people, for the earth, and more…
I have described this grief with others as having a different emotional and spiritual capacity, at times feeling like the well is depleted, or conversely the emotional baseline is already high. One person said they feel like they are moving in slow motion, another that even a sad story on the radio is enough to bring them to tears, another that they struggle with finding energy to hold up critical concerns they believe in and ache for those more directly affected by racism and inequality that as I mentioned have been exposed by this pandemic; struggling with weariness and feeling like we are limping along. Much of this sounds like the experiences and emotions and challenges of grief. And so Dr. Henry’s counsel to us all remains wise and needed: be kind, be calm, be safe, all together.
We are grieving. The world is grieving. Jesus is grieving. And just to add to the list, Jacob is grieving, needing to leave a land that he knew was not his and his family’s and ancestor’s home, and wrestling with leaving and with God in the wilderness for a blessed future. And Paul is grieving for his own people of Israel whom he fears do not see as he sees, that Jesus is the promised Messiah, over all, whom God blessed forever.
God’s people grieve and wrestle with grief for themselves and others. And Jesus grieves. And goes to a deserted place – the wilderness where he was driven by the Spirit before, where his cousin John he now grieves, prepared the way for Jesus’ arriving through a Baptism of repentance. Where the people of Israel are again and again met by God in their loss and grief, provided God’s sustenance and prepared for a new beginning.
That’s the second thing to acknowledge today: Jesus goes into the wilderness. Maybe it’s the only safe place to go when the empire is killing the prophets, to wrestle with God’s Spirit and our own spirits in grief, struggling and depleted and uncertain. Jesus goes to the wilderness because Jesus knows as the history of the people of Israel has shown, this is the place of God’s providence and care, in the desolation of what seems all loss and scarcity and lack, but with God is a new beginning.
And people, many who may be grieving too, for John or for their own reasons, follow Jesus into the wilderness, knowing or not knowing what it holds for God’s people, for them, for us. And as we heard, Jesus has compassion on them and heals their sick, and when it’s late, and Jesus’ disciples are afraid of what they will do with a hungry mob of thousands, Jesus says, “you feed them.” And incredulous, they watch as Jesus does just that, feeds the hungry five thousand families with what seems scarcely enough for five families, five loaves of bread, blessed and broken in a holy communion of sharing with everyone. And all have enough and more left over.
Is the Spirit showing us in Jesus feeding thousands in the wilderness of their grief and hunger in body and spirit, God’s promise for us to hope for and hold on to in our grief and hunger and our wrestling with the future in this pandemic time, that despite seeming desolation and scarcity and lack, Jesus/God is with us and this world, grieving with, wrestling with, and feeding us and this world and preparing us for a new beginning? Or is it too incredible a miracle to believe?
Ensuring people, families are fed, have bread to eat, has been a critical concern and effort of this pandemic time: Government programs to ensure continuing household incomes that we hope may open the door to a guaranteed minimum income for all Canadians at all times. And food relief efforts of many organizations and agencies, like the Shelbourne Community Kitchen that has seen its membership increase by almost 200 people, and received grants and donations, with thanks to many of you who are able and have made donations to the Kitchen, to help ensure people who fall through cracks, new Canadians, those without addresses, have food, bread, support, for themselves and their families. Rather than only scarcity and lack, we see God’s hope in sharing what has been blessed and broken and given to us, so all have enough.
Yesterday, August 1, was the anniversary of Emancipation Day, when in 1834 the British empire declared slavery illegal across all the British colonies, including Canada. It acknowledged a centuries long history of slavery across the commonwealth, and the desperate need for it to end forever. Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard introduced a private member’s bill in 2018 and continues to call on the Government of Canada to acknowledge and honour Emancipation Day, to know our history together and the continuing need to address systemic racism in our nation, communities and selves. Our National Bishop Susan Johnson joined with other church leaders in writing a letter to our Prime Minister to recognize this day and pledging that our Church will recognize it from now on. What could this simple but critical step of honouring Emancipation Day as a nation and church and ourselves, do to change and challenge, especially those of us who are white with all of its privileges, to make a more equal nation and world for all?
As announced in our newsletter, this week marks the 75th Anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9 at 8:15 and 11:50 AM, when bells for peace will ring across the city and world, and we are encouraged to ring a bell ourselves to remember and recommit ourselves to peace in our homes, neighbourhoods, world, as others before us. What could this act of solidarity for peace sound in a world too often clamouring for and too close to war?
Jesus/God grieves, with Jacob and Paul and thousands who are hungry and sick and tired in the wilderness and millions more in the wilderness of our time. We grieve and Jesus/God grieves with us. And Jesus/God feeds us, in body and Spirit, that we would feed one another and all who are hungry, hurting, struggling, in pain, in this world. Like Jacob we wrestle with our grief and with God, holding on for a blessing. We may walk away limping, but we walk, together with Jesus/God, through the wilderness, yes, but not alone, blessed and fed enough, strengthened enough, to walk with Jesus in God’s ways of feeding, of healing, of hope and wellbeing for all. Thanks be to God. Let it be so, in all our relations. Amen.