Sermon: Love Persevering
March 7, 2021 - Third Sunday in Lent
The Rev. Andria Skornik
If you’ve been watching WandaVision — the new show that crashed DisneyPlus this last weekend as millions watched the finale — you know at first glance it’s a show about traveling through the different phases of TV history, all the way from Bewitched to Modern Family.
But as the show hints at from the beginning, there’s more going on. Once you’re about halfway in, you see that it’s actually a show about loss. In fact, it’s about an entire world created out of one character’s grief.
The way it unfolds is necessary. A show about grief would hardly attract the same level of viewership. As a society we don’t tune into grief. We do our best to change the channel. That is one of the reasons Ash Wednesday, Lent and Good Friday are so important because they get us to sit and stay with it a moment.
Where other cultures embrace the grieving process with rituals that last for months, or going so far as to hire professional mourners, we tend to look at grief as a negative thing. As something we have to get through. As one writer puts it, in books and film, “dealing with grief [almost always] is represented as a long, painful journey towards learning to move on and let go.” They give the example from the movie Swingers, where one character tells another: “It’s like, you wake up every day and it hurts a little bit less, and then you wake up one day and it doesn’t hurt at all,” and the quote from Eat, Pray, Love, where Elizabeth Gilbert describes grief like being lost in the woods. “Deep grief,” she says, “sometimes is almost like a specific location, a coordinate on a map of time. When you are standing in that forest of sorrow, you cannot imagine that you could ever find your way to a better place. But if someone can assure you that they themselves have stood in that same place, and now have moved on, sometimes this will bring hope.”
There is something to the way time can help with grief, as people who have experienced it probably know. But that’s not the only way of understanding it.
In the show, WandaVision, the character Vision, who is comforting Wanda after the death of a loved one says: “It can’t all be sorrow, can it? ... I’ve never experienced loss because I’ve never had a loved one to lose. But what is grief, if not love persevering?”
What if grief is love’s way of persevering? Our love, in the face of loss, finding a way to live on.
Our gospel this morning has been confusing and unsettling for many. We have a hard time knowing what to do with this Jesus who knocks over tables, pours out money, and fashions whip of cords to get the animals out of the Temple. But what if we look at him as someone who is grieving?
The Temple was considered the dwelling place for God’s presence and was a sacred part of Jewish life. It was the place worshipers like Jesus and his family made a pilgrimage every year. As a youth, it was the place Jesus stayed behind to hang out and talk to the scholars. But this holy place was not being regarded as such.
There are different nuances of what exactly was going on, but basically worshippers coming to the Temple were being forced to buy animals for their offerings at a high markup. Even if they already had animals that they brought. The people were being exploited. The act of worship was not being honored by the religious leaders. And Jesus was deeply grieved by this. His response was an expression of his love for the temple, for the worshippers, even for the ones abusing their roles. He loved it and them too much not to do or say something.
On one level this passage is about what happened with Jesus at the Temple. But on another, it’s about assisting those who grieve. If you think about it, for the audience reading John’s gospel, the Temple was gone. It was destroyed in 70 AD. About 30 years or more before this gospel was written. They would have been dealing with this great loss. A significant part of their lives gone.
So then to this group of people Jesus’ words, “Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in three days...” is a way of saying to those left behind, in so much loss, in all their grief: no matter what happens, love will persevere. Your temple, the way you knew to relate to God may be gone, but somehow, God will find a way.
A year ago tomorrow, we had our last Sunday together before the lockdown. We were hand sanitizing, using individual Communion cups, trying to be careful. But I couldn’t have imagined not having church in the building the next Sunday or for a year for that matter. We’re now faced with the possibility of getting some things back, like opportunities to worship in person. I, like many of you, am so excited about all of this. And yet, there is still grief to contend with.
Because of COVID-19, there are experiences we’ll never get back. As a mentor of mine, Lisa Cressman, wrote, ”Yes, there is hope, and yes, we will go on by God’s grace. But hope does not pretend that the rituals, trips, and events we will craft after the pandemic to substitute for the ones we missed during it, will always and only be substitutes. Yes, there is resurrection. But resurrection is only accessed because death happens first, and death is permanent, and won’t be cancelled, avoided, or fixed. Yes, there have been unforeseen blessings during the pandemic for which there is reason to be profoundly grateful. But those blessings do not negate the price we paid to get them; they will always live hand in hand.”
Last week, I got to be with family members I haven’t seen in over a year, watching them hold and play with our baby, how delighted they were with him and how sweet it was. In that moment, it hit me how in the first year of his life we’d missed all that. It was time that we wouldn’t get back. And in such a happy time, there was also sadness. Grief that I hadn’t been aware of.
I wouldn’t be surprised if, as we go back, and as we have experiences we haven’t had in a long time, a hug from a friend, sitting in the pew, waving to our kids going into their school buildings, that in addition to the happiness, there might be some grief, too.
What if rather than running from it, or hiding from it, or waiting for it to pass, we embrace it? What if we look at it as our love persevering looking for a way? Not replacing what was lost, but with love for what was and hope for what may be, forging something new. What if when grief comes up we sit with it, listen, and ask, Love, what are you trying to do?
Grief is love’s way of persevering. And as we know from the cross, love always finds a way.