The Unthinkable: A Sermon for a Suicide

John 20:1-2, 10-18

The Resurrection of Jesus

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then the disciples returned to their homes.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.


We come here today, O God, many of us hunger and thirsty for your word. And, we come here today, O God, many of us with such confusion and sadness we don’t know where to begin. And so, we pray, that you would speak to all of us that we might be nourished by your Word. And, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight for you alone are our rock and redeemer. Amen.

It was day three. It felt like day 300 and like 3 seconds had gone by at the same time. It was third day of walking through a fog of shock and disbelief. How could something so horrible have happened? Why did it happen? Could his friends have prevented it from happening? It all seemed so horribly unfair, unjust and unreal. His family and friends were raw with emotions of disbelief in the violence of it all. They had more questions than answers, more fear than faith and more doubt than hope. It was not supposed to be this way. He was so young. His whole life was ahead of him. Why? Why? Why?

It was day three. And just like the day before and the day before that, she got out of bed. She counted the day. She put her feet on the floor and pushed on. Finally the Sabbath was over and she could go to the tomb where they laid him. She was a doer. It was easier if she kept busy. It was easier if she had something do. So she was in charge of the spices and oils that they were going to lay on him. With stiff joints and wrung out eyes she prepared the basket for the tomb. She was an early riser. – If she slept at all. She had things to do, to take care of his family and his friends so that they could grieve him as she did. She knew they were rattled and she felt the pain of their loss.

She stepped out into the cool morning, the dew seeped into her feet and the wind kissed her face , she pressed on through tear clouded eyes.

So she walked on.

Even from a distance she could sense that something wasn’t right. Something just didn’t look right – the stone…the stone was moved. Oh God, what have they done?

Can you imagine the desperation.. no, no, no, this is not happening! This is not fair! First they kill him. Then they take him. It must have been like watching him die twice.

Even angels could not soften her weeping. They were there when she worked up her nerve to look inside the tomb, sitting where he had lain. “Why are you weeping?” they asked her. “They have taken away my Lord,” she answered them, “and I do not know where they have laid him.”

It never occurred to her that they might be the culprits, apparently, but it was not as if she was thinking clearly. She was operating on automatic pilot, so that when she left the tomb she bumped into the gardener without even seeing him. In haste her hope was that he might know the answer to her question. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him and I will take him away.”

She’s angry. She wants someone to blame. She wants some sense out of the senseless. So she says to this gardener, “what have you done?” She is so angry that she cannot see the that person standing before her is Jesus himself. He is right there in front of her to tell her that he is with her that while he is not the same, he is not completely gone.
And once she sees him, she wants to hold him. To make him come back. But Jesus says, “Don’t hold on to me,” he said to Mary “Don’t hold on to me,” he said, which means, I think, “Regardless of how you try to understand and explain this, as much as you try to hold me, in this moment, I am always ahead of you, out in front of you in the future. I will be there in your future. And therefore there is no tragedy so great that I cannot in some way redeem it, and there is no personal loss so profound that I cannot overcome it, and there is no pain so deep that I cannot bear it with you, and there is no cause so hopeless that I cannot fill it and you with new energy and hope and passion and life.”

He’s right out front redeeming, overcoming, bearing, loving. There is no tragedy that Christ cannot redeem. There is no loss that Christ cannot overcome. No cause so hopeless that Christ cannot energize his people to devote themselves and his kingdom earth.
Throughout history people have been trying to make sense out of the senseless, to put words, where there are no words.

In his sermon for his son Alex, The Reverend William Sloan Coffin preached this homily to his congregation:
As almost all of you know, a week ago last Monday night, driving in a terrible storm, my son — Alexander — who to his friends was a real day-brightener, and to his family “fair as a star when only one is shining in the sky” — my twenty-four-year-old Alexander, who enjoyed beating his old man at every game and in every race, beat his father to the grave.
Among the healing flood of letters that followed his death was one carrying this wonderful quote from the end of Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms”: “The world breaks everyone, then some become strong at the broken places.”
My own broken heart is mending, and largely thanks to so many of you, my dear parishioners; for if in the last week I have relearned one lesson, it is that love not only begets love, it transmits strength.

When a person dies, there are many things that can be said, and there is at least one thing that should never be said. The night after Alex died I was sitting in the living room of my sister’s house outside of Boston, when the front door opened and in came a nice-looking, middle-aged woman, carrying about eighteen quiches. When she saw me, she shook her head, then headed for the kitchen, saying sadly over her shoulder, “I just don’t understand the will of God.” Instantly I was up and in hot pursuit, swarming all over her. “I’ll say you don’t, lady!” I said.

The one thing that should never be said when someone dies is “It is the will of God.” Never do we know enough to say that. My own consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that Alex die; that when the waves closed over the sinking car, God’s heart was the first of all our hearts to break.

While the words of the Bible are true, grief renders them unreal. The reality of grief is the absence of God — “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” The reality of grief is the solitude of pain, the feeling that your heart is in pieces, your mind’s a blank, that “there is no joy the world can give like that it takes away.” (Lord Byron). (William Sloan Coffin, Homily for his Son Alexander)

I cannot explain why we are all here today. It doesn’t make sense. I imagine that we are all in different stages of grief. Some of us are in denial, some are angry, some are deeply sad, some are bargaining. Wherever you are tomorrow will be day ten without Jeremy in your lives. And you will get up and you will face the world without him in your life. Some of you will want to do something. Like Mary you will want to help. You will want to somehow fix it. Some of you will stay away like the disciples, you will want to grieve in silence. But we will all carry a measure of pain. I would encourage to support each other. See the pain in your brother and sister in Christ. Check in on each other. We can honor Jeremy by being gentler with each other, by recognizing our common humanity. We are all so human and although we are fearfully and wonderfully made we are also dust. Please be gentle with yourselves and with each other. Be kind to yourself. If you are hurt by another human being, let it go. The stuff we carry is too heavy to carry alone. Look around. See that Jesus is right in front of you in the person next to you, behind you and before you. Honor Jeremy by telling someone you love them and they matter and you are better person because they are in it. Say to someone, whatever it is you are carrying, nothing, nothing, nothing will keep me from loving you.

Some of you may want to hold on to the past, on all to anger or hold on to grief. But friends trust that you do not need to hold on so tightly because by the Grace of Jesus Christ you are being held and Jeremy is being held together and he will let neither of you go. And that grace will get you through day 10, day 11, and the next and the next until at last you meet again.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow
The sun forbear to shine
But God, Who called me here below
Will be forever mine
Will be forever mine
You are forever mine



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