As part of my graduate studies, I was a hospital chaplain on the psychiatric unit and one of my duties was to facilitate a support group for patients and family members with “Grief and Loss Issues.”
I usually began that group with a brief summary of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and other’s work on the stages of grief, and explained that whenever a change (or a loss) happens in our lives, we go through a series of stages of grief.
We all have denial, saying “Surely not me - surely not my family member. This can’t happen to me.” We will bargain – with fate, with God, with ourselves. “I’ll do anything. Just don’t take my loved one from me.” We will be angry, have anger; we will rage at the unfairness of the world and maybe even at God for letting such things happen. We will have depression; we will be saddened by our loss. And then, finally – hopefully – we will have acceptance. Denial, bargaining, anger depression, and acceptance: stages of grief.
Some of us will stay longer in one stage than another of the grieving process. Some people get stuck in anger or depression and live the rest of their lives right there, never moving on. Some of us bounce back and forth between stages like the ball in a pinball machine: anger to depression to acceptance and then back to anger again. I think it is more helpful to talk about the stages of grief like a revolving door than a series of steps: five steps to acceptance and happiness. It’s more like a revolving door, where you can’t get out until you go all the way around. The revolving door may move a lot more slowly than you’d like to go, but you have to put up with it, one step at a time, until you get all the way round.
The problem is…we don’t always get to finish one round of the revolving door before the next loss hits us. One of the key phrases in the support group was “frequency of loss.” Sometimes losses come flying at us – bam, bam, bam – sandwiched together, one right after another. That’s when the grief process gets particularly sticky. We haven’t had time to finish grieving one loss before another one hits. A parent dies; a child graduates from high school; a job ends; a friend moves away. A bunch of losses, sandwiched together in a small amount of time.
I think it might have been a little bit like this for Jesus’ disciples around Easter. Following Jesus was not then, and is not now, an easy path to travel. It’s kind of like flying in a small airplane – the trip itself isn’t so bad; it’s the ups and downs that make you sick. There have been a lot of ups and downs for the disciples recently. Think of Palm Sunday, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. That was certainly an “up.” But then there was the betrayal in the garden - loss of a friendship - then a trial - then a crucifixion. Jesus’ disciples, men and women, gathered together to grieve this loss at his death. But wait! Three days later, there is resurrection! Up; down; up. And then just when things were getting back to normal (the writer of the book of Acts tells us, “after forty days”), Jesus is gone again. The disciples stand there, stupefied, gazing into the heavens, as Jesus ascends, and “a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). Up; down; up; down. For the second time, Jesus has left them. Grief, and loss.
Resurrection is sandwiched between two losses. Jesus has left his disciples physically in his death: slice one. Jesus will leave again in forty days upon his ascension: slice two. But in between is the meat; in between is resurrection! Resurrection is the meat that sustains us. It is the heart of the gospel. Resurrection is what makes it all possible.
Jesus’ ascension is a call to action for his disciples and for each of us. He sends us forth to be witnesses. As we approach the Ascension of the Lord we celebrate on May 30th, let us not stand around gazing into the sky; may we go forth to be witnesses to the Resurrection Sandwich, from our doorsteps to the ends of the earth.
Peace for the journey, Rick