Grace Presbyterian Church
December 9, 2018, SHW
When Epaphroditus Got Well
We don’t know much else about this Epaphroditus character, aside from his being mentioned among Paul’s co-workers as in passages like this. This is in fact his one big scene, so to speak. Apparently he had been part of the community at Philippi, which had sent him to help Paul in some way – possibly during one of his many imprisonments. At some point he had become ill, very severely ill to hear Paul describe it, but had recovered, and Paul had decided to send him back to Philippi so that his fellow members of that community might be reassured of his health and able to celebrate his healing.
Simple as it is, that’s a pretty good picture of the body of Christ in action. We are grieved and sorrowful and concerned when one of our body falls ill or is seriously injured or suffers some manner of other setback, be it personal or professional or anything else, and we rejoice when that member is restored to health or recovers from any injury or is somehow restored from that setback.
Or, if those things don’t happen, we grieve more.
These things happen in the community. That’s not always easy. It’s not always easy to talk about these things – sometimes because it’s just painful or embarrassing or other things, sometimes because it’s still not always clear exactly what is going on (the uncertainty is the worst, isn’t it?), and sometimes we’re just too tired and frustrated to talk about it.
And sometimes because everybody around us is being joyful and festive, celebrating a time of year like this one. Finding a space for grief, or for remembering and acknowledging grief lest it overwhelm us and drag us down, is never all that easy, but at this time of year – “the most wonderful time of year” as the late Andy Williams somehow manages to sing over and over again – it can seem darn near impossible.
Since I’m the one bringing this up, I should be transparent here: I can name two such griefs that haunt my season every year whether I want them two or not. It was twenty-nine years ago that my mother, the single parent who raised me, died a week to the day before Christmas. Six years ago this coming Friday (and it was a Friday six years ago too) I underwent surgery for cancer. It was a success – I’ve been cancer-free since that surgery and the chemotherapy that followed – but complications from the surgery itself began to appear a little more than a year ago and have become, well, more complicated of late. That particular grief has been haunting me a little more concretely this year than usual, you might say.
Still, whatever that grief, we know that Advent still calls us to watch and wait. We still prepare for the coming of the Christ child on Christmas Day, and we still watch for the coming of Christ the King in the fulness of time. These things do not change.
And these things are not diminished by the fact that we bear sorrow as we wait. The child will still be born no matter the tears we shed. Christ will still return and call us to be reunited with him in eternity no matter our infirmities or physical setbacks. We are still Christ’s people. We are not abandoned in our grief. Christ does not abandon us, and we don’t abandon each other.
Epaphroditus got well, and his people rejoiced with him. Still, one day we know not, he did die. His friends grieved and lamented his loss. And yet all of that company will know that great resurrection and reunion with our Lord, as will we.
In the end there’s no good reason not to grieve. Frankly, we’d be less human if we didn’t. We’d be less Christ-like, even – remember how Jesus wept at Lazarus’s tomb. Our sorrows do not disqualify us from celebrating the coming Christ.
I know all those old gospel songs talk about how Jesus will wipe away every tear. I’m not sure about that; I wonder if Jesus will in fact sit down and weep with us. Either way, we will be – we are – loved and welcomed and rejoiced over every day of our walk in the Spirit, weeping or laughing.
For the welcome of the sorrowful, Thanks be to God. Amen.