Paul said it best when he said, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." (Phill 1:21)
And Paul knew. He had faced hurricanes, shipwrecks, stonings, beatings, torture unimaginable, prolonged imprisonment... He knew what it was to have much and to have nothing. He knew what it was to be imprisoned, abused, starved, lonely, grieving, and ON TOP OF ALL THAT- a stinking thorn be stuck that he could NOT get relief from- "a messenger of Satan, to torment me" (2 Cor 12:7). You know he had to had times when he was like... Dear Lord- HAVE MERCY.
"... I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Cor 12:7-10)
And even in these trying times, much like with Job, He still praised God.
He still knew that the cross was sufficient to heal every wound, bind up every hurt, and crucify every enemy. He knew where his hope was found.
Paul knew that above it all, the giving of thanks was the answer to every kind of brokenness. Thanksgiving is the glorification of a perfect God that is only magnified in our vast weaknesses. I've talked before about how gratitude can triumph over guilt. Well, I'm here to tell you that gratitude can triumph over grief as well.
We all know it- Count it ALL as joy... (James 1:2).
We all know it- Do not be anxious about ANYTHING, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phill 4:6-7)
We all know it in our heads. And we want to know it in our heart. But we forget that with all things, these brains of ours can run interference, can be easily distracted and lied to, and can lead us away from truth. They can just go totally batcrap crazy sometimes. Our minds require our vigilance, self-discipline- they require intentional, persistent refocusing and control.
Even in our deepest grief, we cannot allow our minds to go where ever they might lead us. We must take our thoughts captive and seek to have the mind of Christ. The Message puts Matthew 7:14 like this, "The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention."
And what is the mind of Christ? It is a mind filled with TRUTH. It is THE WORD. It trusts The Father above all things. The mind of Christ lays down it's will to the Father in heaven. “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.' (Luke 22:42)
Above all, the mind of Christ gives thanks. In John 11, we walk through the heart-wrenching account of the death of Lazarus, but then the astounding account of dry bones coming to life with a simple call from Jesus.
Christ has been confronted by both Martha then Mary with the words... the plea... the accusation: "Lord, if you had BEEN HERE, MY BROTHER WOULD NOT HAVE DIED." They may not have shouted, but I can promise you they wanted to. Lord, WHERE WERE YOU!?! You loved our brother. You say you LOVE us! Why did you stay away and allow this pain and suffering? Why did you allow this loss? You could have stopped it, and yet YOU DID NOTHING. You weren't even here. We sent for you when we need you most, and you didn't come.
Can't you hear that in their hearts? Haven't you heard that in your own heart?
And so Jesus weeps with them, and weeps with the Jews who have gathered to comfort and mourn. He is overwhelmed by their pain and fully experiences it with them, despite knowing what's coming. Despite knowing, and BEING, eternal life.
So He says to His Father "Father, I THANK YOU that you have heard me..." and he calls Lazarus from the tomb.
He thanked and then he called forth into a cavernous, bottomless, vacuum of death- so that those gathered could experience what a resurrected life meant. He spoke into the death, and woke it back into life. He did this with his Thanks-giving.
His GRATITUDE delivered them from GRIEF.
Our minds and hearts can be angry, questioning, frustrated, and completely hysterical with grief as it attempts to swallow us whole- like Mary and Martha. We can cry out to God, accuse him, question him, attempt to control his choices. This is the flesh of death. And this flesh of death is why we can be so thankful that only our FLESH will ever have to succumb to death.
Our flesh, in the death of a loved one, cries out these accusations and questions. Our flesh focuses on the location and condition of their flesh. Our flesh looks at all that has been stolen from us- this massive, terrifying "taking away". Our flesh accuses God of being a taker and becomes anxious for who or what is next.
Job experienced this. Paul experienced this. Mary and Martha probably experienced this. But Christ silenced all of these fleshly desires and concerns with his eluding of the grave.
His death being so brief, that grave being so empty- it reminds us that our God is no taker. He is a giver.
Christ was given.
Then He was given to the cross.
Then given to the grave.
Then given new life.
His givenness gave US eternal life.
We are given a heart of flesh.
We are given new life as a new creation.
We are given mercy.
We are given eternal grace.
We are given salvation.
We are given peace.
We are given freedom.
We are given redemption.
We are given provision.
We are given sweet relief.
We are given eternal hope.
He has the right to take- this God of ours. It's all His anyway. "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed is the name of the Lord." (Job 1:21) And when he takes he does so perfectly and righteously. But that's not his main "thing." God has a theme- The Great Giver.
So to honor our Giver, for all that He has given, we give gratitude. And in this gratitude- this hard, back-breaking work of seeing and grasping and leaning into the gratitude- he gives sweet relief from the grappling of grief.
To God be the glory. Amen.