I remember when I was fourteen and my parents told me we were moving again. My clergy father felt God’s pull from our suburban Boston home to a call serving a church out in the wilds of Wyoming. It was night, and we were in the informal area right off the kitchen where we ate most of our meals. It was night time, the darkness outside reflecting my sullen teenage mood and the general disinclination to uproot my life again. I remember walking through the stages of grief, 1st denial. Mom and dad had to be joking. I had made it through middle school in one place. My best friend lived a block away, and I was settling into high school sports and classes. This could not be a legitimate proposal. I then moved to anger. How dare they move us again! What kind of parents did they think they were ripping their children from communities that supported them (my parents were and are great parents these were just the thoughts of frustrated teenager). I then tried bargaining, devising a plan where I could live with another family from our church whose daughter just left for college. In this fantasy I would keep going to the school I loved, maintain relationships that were important, and fly to visit my parents for holidays. There had to be planes in Wyoming after all. This was met with a flat, non-negotiable no. There were lots of tears. Honestly, I don’t know how many tears, though I am sure lots- weeks worth probably. Finally, there was acceptance, as my mom and I drove away from our home with our spider plants stuffed in the back seat of our station wagon. We were loaded up like some new voyage of Oregon Trail. Westward ho!
In my grief I had not wanted to accept the truth that was before me. Life was going to change. It already had, and there was little I could do to stop it.
Within scripture I find it curious that the disciples struggle so much to catch on to what Jesus is telling them. In the passage from the Gospel of John today, Jesus makes it pretty straight forward:
After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. – John 13:21-26
I cannot help but wonder why this simple message is so confusing. Maybe because their anticipated grief at losing Jesus is so intense that they cannot fathom that Jesus truly means what he says (they are in denial). Maybe the disciples cannot believe Jesus’ words because there must be some other truth he is trying to convey or another option for what is happening (bargaining). The disciples emotions will also pass through to anger- tears and fear, but for now their grief is leading to their misunderstanding- as it has done and as it will do for us all.
I ended up loving living in Wyoming. I was given so many opportunities that a small school and the love and support of a rural community offers. In college I chose to go back and work summers there even after my parents moved on again to take care of my Granny in Virginia. Jesus’ death leads to his resurrection out of which the disciples are empowered by God’s Holy Spirit to start the church. These events don’t happen in order to teach us or the disciples lessons from our grief. But life happens. Grief occurs. And we cannot help but be changed. We cannot help but be transformed.