Grieving for What We Have Never Known
By Rev John T. Schwiebert, ThM
As you may know, Grief Watch takes its name from a story found in the Bible (Matthew 25: 36-46) in which Jesus says to three of his closest disciples, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here and watch (i.e. stay awake) with me.” Like us, Jesus needs his friends to be a quiet, attentive presence with him as he faces a grief that is intense and personal.
But why is Jesus grieving? A part of his grief, certainly, has to do with the anticipated loss of his own life, as enemies conspire to kill him. But he is also experiencing another loss: the loss of unrealized hopes and dreams, the knowledge that he will die without having seen what he had hoped to accomplish before his premature death by execution.
Usually we think of grieving as what we experience because previously we had a connection with something or someone that we have since “lost” through death, divorce, illness or other circumstance. But Jesus is here experiencing the loss or absence of something he has not yet experienced or known—something that should have been already but is not!
This experience of grieving for what one has longed for but has not yet experienced is poignantly expressed in two other stories of Jesus:
In Luke 13: 31-35, Jesus says, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!”
Later, in Luke 19: 41-44, we are told that “as [Jesus] came near and saw the city [of Jerusalem] he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed the days will come upon you , when your enemies . . . will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you . . . because you did not recognize the time of your visitation [from God.]’”
Most of us have observed on an individual level this kind of grief that stems from unfulfilled dreams: the mother wlth terminal cancer who grieves because she will not live to see her child grow into adulthood, the couple who grieve because they will not be able to bear a child together.
But I think it is also important to recognize the complex social grief that is pervasive in our country and in the world because we as human beings have not figured out how to share equitably with each other, and to live together without killing one another and destroying the natural world on which our common life depends.
As one who frequently joins in protest marches and rallies against military violence, monopoly capitalism, exploitation of working people, neglect of children, the rape of our planet and a host of other social ills, I have come to realize that often our public actions have more to do with personal grief work (making Tear Soup!) than with bringing about actual change. Sometimes I go to these events just to grieve and be in fellowship with others who are also grieving because the world as it should be is so far from what God wills it to be, and because I may not live to see the kin-dom* of God “on earth as it is in heaven.”
My realization that in such cases I am dealing with a kind of loss means that my grief is therefore quite normal and natural. In my grief I am working my way to the stage of acceptance. However, this does not mean acceptance that the future is hopeless, but only that I must face disappointment and do the work of grief even as I “hope against hope” for the ultimate fulfillment of what God has promised!
*in our faith community we like to use the word “kin-dom” instead of Kingdom, not only because is sounds more gender inclusive, but because the Kingdom of God really implies community or kinship among all people.