When I was assigned to write the response to the John 11:25-26 passage, I didn’t know that the day before Easter we’d be burying my grandmother. Reading the words that Rev. Katherine Lee Baker shared with us yesterday brings forth such a mixture of feelings, both peaceful and painful.
“What better news to receive than a God who insists that death is not the end. What stranger and more radical hope than to believe in a God who determines that death might also be a new beginning. Our God is not binary. Our faith is not final. Our story is not linear.”
These words are so hard to hear, and harder even to understand. On the one hand, this is the foundation of the faith I was raised in; these sentiments are not particularly new to my ears, although the language Katherine uses is beautifully poetic. On the other hand, seeing a loved one’s casket being lowered into the ground feels so very final. And yet that strange and radical hope keeps chasing me, unwilling to let go.
I’ve grappled this last week with who my grandmother was and her difficulty in accepting my sexuality. I’ve wrestled with my own emotional distance from her and inability to fully forgive her generational mores. As we’ve said goodbye to her, I know too I’ve bid farewell to any chance of closing this emotional distance and repairing what was broken. And yet, I know grandma loved me deeply. She showed that in a thousand quiet, beautiful ways.
And that’s where I’ve found strange and radical hope. Grandma would be absolutely horrified by this comparison, but in her quiet, beautiful love for me, I see Christ. I didn’t always understand her, but she loved me by showing up. I don’t always understand Jesus (rarely, even) and some of the things he asks us to do seem too difficult or incomprehensible. I’ve even at times let my own stubbornness allow me to feel distance from him, but he continues to show up. And he just won’t stop, no matter how many times I try to push him away.
Grappling with the grief of loss amidst a weekend of sacred celebration and joy in eternal life is hard. But just as Katherine said, our God is not binary. I don’t have to pick between the sorrow or celebration; I hold them both. And while I continue to hold that tension along with so much more, I hold too the strange and radical hope that this is not the end for me and grandma. This just might be a new beginning.
Prayer: God of sorrow and celebration, hear my prayer. We seek joy in the salvation you offer, but we still bear the wounds of persecution. We celebrate the invitation to know you more fully, and yet we find ourselves pushing you away. Thank you God, for not being put off by our both-and, our either-or. Thank you for doggedly pursuing us, despite our hesitation. Let your strange and radical hope infect our lives in every way, and let us find comfort in our mourning. God of second chances, give us the strength to share more deeply, to love more fully, to set aside our preconceptions, and to revel in the new beginnings you offer us daily. Amen.
Cameron Van Kooten Laughead is Room for All’s Executive Director and an Iowa native, living in Des Moines with his husband Ian and their cat, Pico. He finds most joy most often in his garden or in the laughter of his niece and nephews.