Written by Ashley Boaeuf, Interim Youth Director
A couple of nights ago, I went on a late walk with a good friend of mine from college. We walked along a path coated in the falling autumn leaves and surrounded by trees that wound through the neighborhood. We took note of the smells, and tried to parse through all the different scents -- good and bad -- that came together to give the woods its unique "woodsy" smell.
"It's like, part flowers, part pine, part... manure, I think," Sara remarked. I laughed, mostly at her comment, but partly at the fact that we were currently taking the time to take a hand full of dirt and leaves and shove it up to our noses.
Right now I can't but feel, that if I took a chunk of the world as if it were a pile of dirt in my hands, that all I would smell was manure. Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico, Vegas. Syria, Burma, and countless more tragedies and events unfolding at this very moment. I think of the lives that have been lost to catastrophe and violence, and I wonder if I could ever identify the softer scents of pine and flowers. I grieve and wonder if these woods could ever possibly smell as sweet as the woods I walk with Sara.
In the moments following Jesus' crucifixion, the disciples surely had no trouble relating to this feeling of hopelessness and loss. The one who they had called "teacher" and "friend" was labeled an enemy of the state and put to death. Jesus was gone. The tomb was closed. The one who could bring living to the dead had now been taken by death himself. The disciples felt the crushing weight of grief.
Of course, as Christians, we know that this was not the end of that story. Jesus would rise up from the tomb and conquer death! Even so, the grief the disciples had felt in those three days prior was not so easily undone by Jesus' miraculous return. This was especially true for Thomas who, so devastated and traumatized by the events that have taken place, could not even fathom the presence of Jesus until he touched his side and felt the wounds for himself.
As I think about all the ways in which we are grieving the world today, I can't help but wonder what Thomas might be able to teach us. For Thomas, grief led him to the very wounds that caused it. Grief brought him to plunge his hands into Jesus' side -- and in feeling the lacerations, Thomas could reckon with the devastation. In reckoning with the devastation, Thomas came to know Jesus in a way he hadn't known him before.
Grief has the potential to do the same for us. It brings us closer to the wounds of the world -- the same wounds that pierce Jesus' hands, feet, and sides. It allows us to see Jesus more fully, and serve his people with even more compassion.
Simply put, if grief is the manure, than it must also be true that it is a nourishment to the soil. It can mobilize, but we cannot allow it to destroy us. Thomas could have felt the wounds in Jesus' side and decided that it was too much to bear. He could have walked away. But instead, Thomas allowed his grief to turn doubt into belief, and his belief turned to action.
So it should be for us. My prayer is that we might allow this grief to mobilize us too. I hope that it would draw us closer to the wounds which lead us closer to Jesus himself. And as we go forward into this broken world, I hope we would not get lost in grief, but that we might be overwhelmed by the woods in all their splendor! For where there is grief there is also pine, and flowers, and all the other tiny scents that make up the woods.
And the woods are beautiful, even in the nighttime. Trust me.