August 22, 2021

Sunday Worship, The Gift of Grief

Prelude—Within Our Darkest Night

Lighting the Peace Lamp—

Within our darkest hour – Christ, you are with us.
Your Spirit kindles the fire that never dies away.
Thanks be to God!

Welcome/Call to Worship— Good morning! Welcome here to this worship space. It’s good to be with you as we pause together before God for this hour.  Today we’ll be reflecting on the Gift of Grief. As the writers of our Sacred Summer series note, most of us are grieving losses that happened over this past year. Loss of innocence in how we see ourselves. Loss due to lockdown and other pandemic precautions. Loss due to thwarted travel plans. Loss of family gathering traditions. Loss of familiar rhythms of work and church and school. Loss of jobs. Loss of friends and family. Loss due to death. That’s a lot of loss. And we each have our own specific combinations of losses. 

Author Melissa M. Kelley has compared grief to a mosaic. “As each mosaic is particular, fashioned by many individual elements configured in unique ways, so each person’s experience of grief is particular. It is formed by the unique interplay of all aspects of one’s life – one’s past, one’s relationships, one’s ways of making meaning, one’s experience of the Divine, one’s history of losses, one’s sense of community, one’s cultural perspectives, and so on.” Grief: Contemporary Theory and the Practice of Ministry, 5-6 

Now you may have a difficult time with grief and be thinking, “How in the world can grief be a gift to open?” That’s certainly understandable. 

Or maybe you would say, “I’m not sad. I’m not grieving right now.” In that case, perhaps you might consider the losses of people around you and of those suffering in other places. 

Whatever griefs may come to mind this morning, let’s hold ourselves and others in the light of God’s love. 

Gathering Songs—

Holy Spirit Come with Power, VT #57 

What a Friend We Have in Jesus, VT #628

Children’s Time—Darrell Yoder

Offering/Prayer—Thank you for your continued support of your congregation. Our budget supports our staff, our building, our congregational care, and our outreach commitments. We are grateful that this community can be a place to seek and give mutual aid and to reach out beyond our community, too. Thanks so much for being the church and giving to the work of the church.Holy One,
As you are faithful to us,
  may we be faithful to you:
  faithful with our time and energy,
  faithful with our possessions and wealth.
Receive these gifts, we pray.
Multiply and use them
  through the power of your Spirit
  to make real your reign
  of love, justice, and peace in our world.
    VT #1022 (adapted)Scripture—Matthew 5:4 and Isaiah 53:3Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

He was despised and rejected by others;
   a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
   he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Sermon—Susan Gascho-Cooke

Heavy, Mary Oliver, fromThirst

That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer,
and I did not die.
Surely God
had his hand in this,

as well as friends.
Still, I was bent,
and my laughter,
as the poet said,

was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel,
(brave even among lions),
“It’s not the weight you carry

but how you carry it –
books, bricks, grief –
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,
put it down.”
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?

Have you heard
the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?

How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe

also troubled –
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
a love
to which there is no reply?

    When I began working as a hospital chaplain, I was still in my 20s and I did not yet sport the glorious crown of silver you see before you now. I was a fresh-faced, brown-haired young woman and when I would round the bend into the ICU waiting room or nurse’s station

I could read the thoughts even before anyone said the words: “You’re so young!”

    What I think was really being said was that I did not have the look of someone likely to be very “well-acquainted with grief.” And when you find yourself looking Loss in the face, “acquaintance with grief” suddenly becomes the one trait you’re instinctively looking for in the human beings around you.

    I think it’s one of the reasons that so many people love and trust the words and poems of Mary Oliver, a poet who was, indeed, well-acquainted with grief

    White, American middle class makes assumptions that loss is something that can and should be avoided. If you’re doing parenting right, you should be able to get your kids through to the age of 18 with their innocence intact: the world is a good place, death is an aberration, and in the best case scenario, you shouldn’t have to learn much about loss or death until a developmentally appropriate time.

And therein lies the quandary, right?

    We somehow know that acquaintance with grief (with loss and death) is absolutely crucial to becoming trustworthy humans and yet we do our best to protect our children from observing, much less experiencing, loss. I’m not saying we should purposely put pain in anyone’s path! Life doles out plenty without seeking it out.

    One of the losses experienced by a set of the world since February 2020, is that it has become a whole lot harder to maintain the pretense that grief and loss are aberrational experiences, and that we can control if and how we’re exposed to them. It’s hard to think of anyone who hasnotbecome more “well-acquainted with grief” over the last year and a half    

    As Leslie recounted in her words of welcome, we’ve experienced:

Loss of friends and family
Loss due to death.
Loss due to lack of travel.
Loss due to lockdown and pandemic safety measures.

Loss of health, due to postponed appointments,

    stress and often unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Loss of rhythms and traditions and ways we’ve loved before.
Loss of rhythms of work and school and church.
Loss of jobs themselves.

Loss of financial security.
Loss of innocence when it comes to how we see ourselves.
Loss of trust in neighbor.

Loss of trust in government.

    And while we desperately desire the support of others who are well-acquainted with grief as we traverse our losses, we have also experienced the loss of support from others: for people we may be used to counting on for support may well have been less available, given their own losses

    In her book,Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief,Claire Bidwell Smith notes that in her counseling work, the first months after a loss most people are essentially in shock. It’s only in the 6-18 months following a loss that we begin to fully comprehend the enormity of the loss (28).

    So, guess where that puts us? In light of the losses of the pandemic, and the political turmoil of 2020, we are right smack in the midst of that“comprehending the enormity of loss” window


    So how do we continue to navigate this season of enormous loss with one another, as a shared community of faith? After all, it’s communal loss in a sense — so there can be pressure to have to sympathize with others’ losses, even if they are different from ours either in experience or in interpretation or handling of loss AND because it’s communal, there are no “designated drivers” who didn’t drink any of the poison and can therefore safely drive us all home. We’re in this together — in all of our fatigue, and with all of our personalities and needs

    And yet each of our needs for healing, for being heard, are uniquely important and urgent and worthy of the full attention of the whole community One of the promises of the Beatitudes was that those who mourn will be comforted.

    And those words came from the mouth of one who truly was acquainted with grief.

One who loved and lost, who wept, who knew pain and sorrow In fact, one of the Hebrew Bible scriptures that was used to identify Jesusasthe Messiah is Isaiah 53:3, which speaks of one who was “acquainted with grief,” one “from whom others hide their faces.”

    And Jesus kept inviting others into his grief and suffering — asking his disciples to get away from the crowd with him, asking them to be with him on the night he prayed in Gethsemane, hoping that the cup might be passed from him. 

    And he was invited into places of grief and suffering, and he went there, sometimes listening, sometimes laying on hands, sometimes offering words of challenge and assurance, sometimes weeping.

    And there was healing. 

    And there was life on the other side of loss. On the other side of death, even.

    In light of this, what does it mean to be followers of this Son of Man? Surely it means that we are meant to be comforted and to comfort. Surely it means that we are wept over in love, and also that we are sometimes called to bring one another tissues to mop the tears, and sometimes called to bring one another the onions to get the tears flowing.

    Surely it means we are to be healed, and to give space and aid for the healing of others.

    What are the griefs you are becoming acquainted with this year? What are they teaching you? What might Grief, this new acquaintance, be teaching you about the grief of others?

    In closing, I share another poem by Mary Oliver, called “Starlings in Winter.” In it she speaks of starling murmurations. Murmurationsare a miracle of plurality — of how beings, when together, become a whole magically, alchemically different from their part May the this poem and the images of murmuration, stir a fitting sadness over the loss of chance to murmurate with one another over the last 18 months and also stir a contented satisfaction that we will murmurate with one another again.

Starlings in Winter, by Mary Oliver

Chunky and noisy, 
but with stars in their black feathers, 
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly 
they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air, 
they swing over buildings, 
dipping and rising; 
they float like one stippled star
that opens, 
becomes for a moment fragmented, 
then closes again; 
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine 
how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause, 
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing, 
this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again, 
full of gorgeous life. 

Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us, 
even in the leafless winter, 
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it; 
I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground, 
I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want 
to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing, 
as though I had wings.

Song of Response—When Pain or Sorrow/Hold On , VT #612

Sharing TimePlease email your prayer requests or reflections this morning to They will be sent out by email by Monday morning.

Sharing Time Prayer—

Loving God,
You know our pain. 
You see the suffering of your beloved children the world over. 
We pour all these losses and grief before you – 
   knowing that you are the God who mourns with us.
Hold our tears, we pray, and give us comfort.
Refill our cup of sadness with your peace and strength 
  that we may be part of your compassionate presence 
  to one another and to all those around us.
In Jesus’ name,


Sending Song— Kindness/Christ Has No Body Here but Ours, VT#568


Go now in peace, worship continues;
  service begins as you go from this place.
Taught by God’s Word, safe in God’s tending,
  hold to the path that will run the good race.

Go Now in Peace,
Worship Continues, VT #829, verse 1

Worship Leader:Leslie Homer-Cattell
Sermon:Susan Gascho-Cooke
Children’s Time: Darrell Yoder
Tech host:Ken Nissley