One summer, many years ago, I drove through a terrible, terrible storm. It was the fourth of July. My family and I had driven down to Norfolk, about an hour from my hometown, to go watch the fireworks. The show ended up getting cut short by a tornado warning, so we decided to hightail it out of there to try to get out of the storm’s path. By the time we finally got out on the highway, the rain was pouring down in thick sheets and the wind howled around us as it ripped through the darkness. It was pitch black and almost impossible to see anything, even the road. It felt like all I could do just to keep my car between the fog lines. But up ahead of me, I realized I could just make out two little red lights in the darkness – the taillights of my dad’s SUV. As I gripped the steering wheel of my car with white-knuckled hands, I kept my eyes on those lights and followed them all the way through the darkness to home and safety.
Grief over the loss of a loved one can feel like its own kind of storm. There is the initial shock of death, like a clap of thunder. And as the shock fades, the rain sets in. All the many ways that we will miss the person we’ve lost fall into our hearts like raindrops, weighing us down with sadness. And deep grief can leave us feeling lost, not knowing which way to go, but only that our lives will never be the same.
I never got the chance to know Bill. I’ve enjoyed hearing the stories about him; it’s clear he was someone with a heart full of love, a quiet man and a good listener whose presence was always felt by others. But I don’t know all the particular ways that each one of you is missing him right now, and I can’t imagine what memories of him will come back to you in the days and years to come. I don’t know exactly how Bill’s life touched each of your lives, though I can see that it mattered enough for you to be here to celebrate the life that Bill lived. It was important enough that you all came here to be together in grief.
But I do know one thing. And that is that, no matter what kind of storm of grief or doubt any of us may be feeling lost in right now, Jesus speaks to us the same message that he spoke to Thomas: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
Jesus is the way, when we don’t know which way to go – he is the good shepherd leading us to safety and comfort even in the midst of the shadow of death. He is the glow of tail lights leading us home when it feels like we can barely even see the road. He is with us always, guiding us, holding us in love, and giving us his strength for the days to come.
Jesus is the truth. And the truth that Jesus speaks to us today is that the way we are traveling does not end here. Our path has parted from the path of our dear friend and brother, Bill, and it will look different from now on. But through his death and resurrection, Jesus opened up a way where there had been no way. Death was once the final end of all our journeys, but through Jesus, death has become just one more stage of the journey – a journey that will lead us all home.
Because Jesus is the life. In our reading from John, Jesus promises us that there are many dwelling places in God’s house, and that somewhere in that house there is a place prepared for every single one of us, with our name on it. Today, our dear brother Bill has found his place in God’s house. We began our celebration today with a thanksgiving for baptism, and we remembered that the waters of baptism are a sign of all that God has done for us. They are a reminder that we have been united with Christ in death, and for this reason, we live in the sure and certain hope that we will also be raised with him to new life.
Grief may be a storm that rages now, with fierce winds and pouring rain and thick darkness. It may feel like a struggle just to keep ourselves between the fog lines. But through God’s promises, the promises in the waters of baptism, we know that there are lights – however faint – shining ahead of us in the darkness, showing us the way.