Grief takes time

Mary Magdala Community

2nd  Sunday in Lent,  February 28, 2021

Rev. Jim Ryan, M.Div.,Ph.D.

Jesus’ followers knew he was in trouble even before he told them the first time that he was going to be crucified.  By the end of the 8th chapter of Mark’s Gospel, as we just heard, Jesus had already engaged in run-ins with the Scribes and the Pharisees.  This picture depicts just such a run-in.  (The picture can be found under the Homlies/Service tab –  2nd Sunday in Lent, Order of Service, p.2.)

Take a close look at the faces of the man and the woman behind Jesus as they look at the Pharisee.  They know that this is a person who probably shouldn’t be crossed.  It was Jesus who had told them, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” (Mark 8:15)  And then look at Jesus’ face as he conveys the message to the Pharisee, “You disregard God’s commandments and cling to what is human tradition.” (Mark 7:8)  Herod had recently beheaded his cousin, John.  Now Jesus was going to Jerusalem for his own fatal confrontation.

His followers were anxious, worried that such a confrontation would be deadly.  They were learning that grief takes time.  This was grief by anticipation.  Maybe they were already asking themselves, “What will I do if the Teacher dies?”  Such a question, sadly, is a recognition that we can grieve even before the person, the one you love, is gone.

Every Season of Lent and the 3 days of Triduum that follow it confront us with the inescapable fact that grief takes time.  Yes, it has duration and there is no getting away from it.  I believe in the wisdom of the liturgical drawing out of the final days of Jesus before Resurrection.  Good Friday is a long, drawn out day of grief for good reason.  Jesus says, “Take up your cross.  Follow me.  Look, really look at me.”   Look at us – going on one year into this grief called covid  – this isolation and disease that endures, a disease that keeps leaping ahead of itself with variants that grow even more virulent.  Surely, future generations will ask about us, “How did they endure it?”  Grief takes time.

Finally, grief takes time.  Just look at the ways we human beings manage to waste time with all the energy spent on planning racist attacks on those who don’t look like me.  Or, how we figure ways to deprive people of their human rights.  The grief we inflict on each other takes time away from doing good.  It’s important that we recognize the difference between that grief and the good grief of time well spent with the Teacher who gives his life for the love he preaches.  As Baptist preachers like to point out, “He walked the talk.”

Thomas Merton has this to say about the time it takes to experience good grief:

“We do not neglect the Passion of Christ in order to concentrate only on his glory…  It is by trying to imitate the life of Christ and by sharing in his death that we pass with Him into the glory of heaven.  That is why we meditate on his life and Passion.”         (The Humanity of Christ in Monastic Prayer)

So, the lessons of grief are hard taught and hard lived.  We anticipate grief.  We endure grief.  And we acknowledge the waste that can lie in grief’s wake.  Grief takes time.  However, it remains true, I think, that we emerge from grief.  From grief we rise to glory.

That’s why I want to tell the story of Uncle Willie from Stamps, Arkansas.  Actually, he was Maya Angelou’s uncle and it’s really her story.  You can watch her tell it on youtube.  Here’s the link:   Go to minute 21 and watch for the next 14 minutes and you’ll hear her full story.

Uncle Willie, the disabled son of Dr. Angelou’s grandmother, worked in the store she owned in Stamps.  Willie’s grief started at birth.  His right side was a lifelong thorn of grief.  This meant he spoke with a slur and could not easily move around, as the poem attests.  But he was a large man, a commanding presence in the store, nonetheless.  Maya and her brother, Bailey, loved their Uncle.

Stamps was red-neck Arkansas, a dangerous, grief dealing place to live in if one happened to be black; dangerous moreso for a black man who couldn’t move quickly.  The Klan didn’t even bother to wear their sheets when they asserted their racist, supremacist ways.  They didn’t worry about breaking any laws either because they were the law, counting sheriffs and deputies in their number.  The word would pass around town that, “The boys are riding tonight.”  And black men had to scatter for fear of their lives.  Maya and Bailey would empty the bin in the store that held potatoes and onions so Uncle Willie could hide in it.  They put potatoes and onions over the top of him so he would not be found.  Grief was rampant at that time in Stamps, Arkansas.

When Uncle Willie died Maya went to take care of funeral arrangements for him.  She stopped in Little Rock on her way and a friend told her someone wanted to meet her.  It was Charles Bussey who would become one of the first African-American Mayors of a city in the deep South.  He came from Stamps too.  He told Maya that Uncle Willie, who had hired him for 10 cents a day to work in the store, was the reason he became the man he was.  So, to honor the man, the Mayor authorized a police escort for her from Little Rock to Stamps.

Maya Angelou says when she saw the police escort made up of white officers it took her back to the nights of the Boys riding in Stamps and hiding Willie in the potato bin.  She also says she kissed each one of them – the officers, not the Boys!

Grief does take time.  And sometimes you get to see the glory that comes from a good person doing good.

I invite you to think about these questions this Lent:

How do you see the Cross today?  What does it take to go from death to life?

What are God’s gifts that get us through it all?

What is my commitment to the good?


A Prayer   (JR)

     Holy and Merciful One, when hope and history rhyme you show us the way out of the  desert of human wrongdoing.  How we pray that now might be such a time, being as  how we are so far down and alienated from one another.   May we face our  confrontations with confidence, as Jesus went to Jerusalem to take up the cross of  death and so fulfill his love for us.   We pray in the Holy Name.    Amen.


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