Present Alongside – Br. Luke Ditewig

We never thought today would be like this, never considered we could lose so much. Death keeps shattering us, our plans and expectations with loss upon loss. Everything is upended. We are sad, so sad at all that has happened and is happening. It is confusing. Life is so strange. Things don’t make sense anymore. What in the world happens next?

Two companions are talking this way on the road to Emmaus, sharing grief. They talk of Jesus, their friend, whom they expected would save them, but who was betrayed, killed, and buried. There is talk of the body missing, and people supposedly seeing angels.

We are talking this way, talking much of our grief at so much death and loss. Talking of we have lost or fear losing: loved ones, health, employment, plans, and direction. The disorientation of life upended: staying at home, now all the time with the same people or so starkly alone, of aching added work or loss of work, with little idea what’s next or when this will change.

As the two walk to Emmaus, Jesus comes and walks alongside. They don’t recognize the one whom they most love and grieve. He is a stranger to them. Jesus asks about their conversation, sees and hears their sadness, and then shares about his own suffering, talking through scripture.

This is Easter: feeling loss and disorientation, being face-first with death, long talks of grief, being confused, and receiving a stranger’s compassionate presence. Easter is not with bright lights or heroic appearance, not with quick fixes or easy answers. There are times when we do not see, cannot perceive that Jesus is here alive with us.

Jesus came to Mary as she visited the tomb and supposed him to be a gardener, to a frightened community gathered behind locked doors, to a group out fishing for whom he provided breakfast, and for these two friends, on the way in their sad talk.

The simplicity surprises us, for it is not as special as we might expect. Resurrection comes right where we are now, amid difficult emotions, perplexing questions, as we walk and eat. Frederick Buechner wrote: “Jesus is apt to come into the very midst of life at its most real and inescapable moments. … He never approached from on high, but always in the midst, in the midst of people, in the midst of real life and the questions that real life asks.”[i]

Jesus comes and walks with us where we are, amid challenges and grief, amid darkness and despair, when life hurts and makes no sense,            when we are bent under the weight of heavy hearts, when lips tremble and tears flow. This is Easter. Jesus comes to be alongside in our current pain and sadness. Jesus is alive here with us, compassionate and curious, oh so human, and friend. Listening to our heartache, sharing his own stories of suffering, and breaking bread together.

If you don’t feel the alleluias, or if you are blind and weighed down in grief, you are not alone. Many of us feel the same. Jesus is alive and present alongside including when we don’t see. So like the two companions on the road, speak your grief. Jesus is persistent, surprising, and personal, coming with love to comfort, console, and confirm. As before and on the cross, Jesus comes not as we expect.

As we collectively and personally face much death and compounded loss, keep praying the pain. If you are looking for words, try about half of the psalms for they show us how to lament. Lament is a cry of pain, a cry for help, and a cry of trust. It is stark and boldly real about pain and suffering, and it assumes being heard. Lament is not just for Lent or Holy Week. It is our ancient prayer. It’s for life, for being human. Keep praying your lament now in our world of grief.

I appreciate psychiatrist Curt Thompson’s reflections. He encourages us to not deny our losses or diminish them by trying to compare with someone else. Your grief is real, and it is yours. Thompson also suggests writing down each day at least one thing you have lost, or are losing. Then also name a couple things for which you are thankful. In this way, pray both grief and gratitude. Tell someone you trust your grief and your gratitude. [ii] Speak it along the hard road, and listen to others. Pray your life as you experience it.[iii]

Jesus persistently comes including when we can’t perceive. Not in dazzling power but in shared stories of suffering, Jesus walks and breaks bread with us. This is Easter. We are not alone. Present alongside, oh so human and friend, Jesus gently fans our soul’s faint embers into flame.

[i] Frederick Buechner. (1966) The Magnificent Defeat. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

[ii] Curt Thompson. (April 21, 2020) Blog: “Inflammation of the Heart.”

[iii] SSJE Rule of Life, Chapter 22: Prayer and Life.

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  1. Pamela Post- Ferrante on April 7, 2024 at 22:13

    Brother Luke-
    Your sermon was so well written; your words went deep.
    My husband died 1 1/2 years ago. We were very close.
    I have felt and still feel his presence in a way that first startled me. Now I wonder if Jesus might be there, too.
    I also am glad you mentioned lament…a part of my life as well.
    I am so grateful for this sermon.

  2. Laurie on April 5, 2024 at 10:45

    Deepest thanks for this sermon Brother Luke- and for re-running this year. I am grieving after losing my wife, best friend and creative partner of 35 years 5 months ago- preceded by 5 of my dearest friends and fellow ministers who I served with for more than a decade at church. I missed them all this Holy Week and Easter- which required Herculean strength. I am joyous for Christ’s resurrection, but it took a lot in order to muster up the energy that ministers of the service are expected to exude on Easter Sunday. Now I am I’ll and exhausted. Most people do not understand grief and the amount of energy it takes to live with and work with it. I deeply appreciate your sermon- for your understanding Br. Luke and for the reminder that Jesus, our friend and brother is with us to comfort and console. Jesus gives what the World cannot give.
    Easter Blessings and deep peace be with you Br. Luke, and to all who are grieving.

  3. Emma on April 5, 2024 at 09:48

    This is a new (to me) and wonderful way to think of Easter. Jesus does not come w a choir singing Alleluia. He comes to us after his resurrection as he came to us in his life, quietly being our friend. (Even cooking us breakfast on a beach! How friendly is that?) Walking beside us in our struggles, imparting support when he need it most.

  4. Sue on April 5, 2024 at 06:46

    Thank you. This reached my grief/despair and helped. Thank you.

  5. Tamasine Plowman on April 5, 2024 at 03:01

    Thankyou ❤️… I took two powerful messages from your wonderful words.. firstly the power of the love through the resurrection is current everyday in the nitty gritty, messy parts of life.. and secondly grief is allowed, shouldn’t be denied should be embraced and named.. thankyou and God bless

  6. Debby Plummer on April 5, 2024 at 01:42

    Grief and gratitude. My husband died last autumn and I joined the company of widows. Your words are wise and they ring so true. Thank you, Br. Luke.

  7. Anne Kennedy on April 20, 2022 at 15:51

    Given the awful pain of the was in UKRAINE. This meditation is a blessing.
    We all need the companionship of one who will walk to EMMAUS and give
    Us comfort. Thank You.

  8. Elizabeth Hardy on April 18, 2022 at 11:34

    Thank you Br. Luke. There are definitely times for all of us when we just aren’t feeling it. I remember a rabbi who was teaching a course in our seminary telling us former congregants tell him they have stopped going to worship because they just don’t feel like it. He said – just keep doing it until you do feel like it. Acknowledging that you might not be there on any particular day – physically or spiritually – takes the pressure off and gives us breathing space to think and pray about why and to receive the grace to try again. This was such a thoughtful and sensitive homily and so appropriate on the Monday after Easter. Elizabeth Hardy+

  9. John F. on April 18, 2022 at 08:17

    There is so much in this message. First, thank you. Your description of resurrection is one I have never contemplated. Bringing in the two disciples on the road is very helpful and their experience opens up a lot of thoughts. Praying grief and gratitude is so helpful. I look forward to rereading this for more insight. Again, thank you.

  10. Carol Bolsover on April 10, 2021 at 13:48

    Thank you, Brother Luke. God bless you and your community.

  11. Dee Dee on April 9, 2021 at 20:26

    Thank you for your wise and comforting words, Br. Luke. They helped me find solace today.

  12. Missy Carter on April 9, 2021 at 13:32

    Dear Br. Luke,
    “pray both, grief and gratitude” and the realistic way you help hold all the range of experiences, intensely now especially, is the most descriptive way of expressing the deeper gift of the Resurrection.
    Thank you, Missy Carter

  13. Ann Trousdale on April 9, 2021 at 09:25

    Thank you, Brother Luke, for this powerful reminder—putting in words what I have indeed experienced with Jesus this Lent and Easter. He has borne our sorrows, and walks alongside us in ours. What a comfort.

  14. SusanMarie on April 9, 2021 at 07:46

    Br. Luke, I am deeply grateful for this sermon. So many think the alleluias come so easily and this is not always true. My dad died from COVID on Tuesday of Holy Week in 2020. For that reason and many others, it’s been a hard year. At the same time, my heart is filled with a quiet, peaceful joy. I have indeed been praying both grief and gratitude along with countless others around the world (many of whom are only praying grief, as that is all the can hold at this time). I am aware that Jesus has been gently fanning my soul’s faint embers into flame. Thank you for that visual. Thank you for such a compassionate and affirming sermon. You have helped the alleluias deep within my heart begin to have meaning and substance. They are not yet loud and shouting, but they are making themselves known.

  15. Carol Muir on May 4, 2020 at 11:00

    Thank you , Br. Luke, for your powerful and consoling words……and your guidance as to praying grief and gratitude and sharing with trusted others.
    Peace to you and your community.

  16. Cristina Milne on April 30, 2020 at 18:10

    Dear Br. Luke,
    Thank you for your beautiful reflection.
    You had made me aware of my grief.
    I am always grateful to God for his love, mercy and grace,
    but I had not realized I have been grieving for the suffering of the world right now
    because of the pandemic, specially in the poor and developing countries,
    and also its pain for being away from God.I knew of my anxiety and worry but not my grief.

    From now on I will “pray both, grief and gratitude”.

    The Lord bless you,Br. luke, and your community.

    • Suzanne McNiff on April 18, 2022 at 14:38

      Thank you Br. Luke, What a beautiful reflection and so consoling to those who are struggling with grief.
      Deacon Susie McNiff

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