Every year at this time, Earth reminds us again of the power of darkness. Darkness ushers us into a larger world, a world without the boundaries we see in the light. It forces us to slow down, to wait for our eyes to adjust, to rely on senses other than sight.
In the dark there is no division between seen and unseen, because everything is unseen. And therefore we can no longer accept the idea that what cannot be seen does not exist.
Love cannot be seen, but it exists. The connections between us and those we love: can we see them? And yet how could we possibly deny them? And so how can we think death stops those connections? If it did, we would never grieve. But we grieve because a life has ended, but our connection with the dead remains.
“Grief,” says Anne Lamott, “sucks.” Yet grief also has its own gifts, and one of them is reminding us that what is invisible is also real. Grief is its own form of darkness, because we simply cannot see our way forward from loss. But in its darkness there is one harsh blessing, and that is the revelation that love is the most real reality, that what connects us exists into and beyond death.
Many of us this week are grieving those we’ve never met, who died not because of illness or age, but because of evil. Maurice Stallard and Vickie Jones, killed senselessly at the grocery store simply because they were Black. Joyce Fienberg, Irving Younger, Melvin Wax, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Richard Gottfried, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, shot to death on Shabbat in a synagogue, one in which two of them—Bernice and Sylvan Simon—had been married 62 years earlier. And we mourn that our Black and Jewish siblings, who have experienced so much generational trauma and violence, have been traumatized anew. One friend of mine, who is a rabbi, says that her children are afraid to go to services next Shabbat, as are many of her congregants’ kids.
If grief reveals to us our enduring connections with people, what does this grief reveal, this grief for people we’ve never met, who were murdered by hate? I think maybe it reveals to us a belief in, and a connection to, an ideal of national life in which all people flourish, in which racism has been banished, in which freedom to worship is a cherished value, in which children are not afraid to go to school or synagogue. Maybe this grief is a call to action and to prayer, the impetus to create a republic that truly has liberty and justice for all. Maybe it is simply a sign that we have not hardened our hearts to protect ourselves from the grief of those who suffer, and a reminder of the terrible beauty of keeping our hearts soft, even though that means we will suffer, too.
A heart that can break is a heart that can love. Both grief and love can only be felt by soft hearts. One of the things we celebrate tonight is the sacrament of grief, which reminds us that we are human, mortal, and yet indelibly, unbreakably connected to each other, even unto death. Even beyond death. We sanctify that grief tonight by gathering together and speaking the names and sharing the stories of those our hearts have broken for. I invite you all, if you wish, to come forward in a few moments and light a candle or two in memory of the saints who have died, whether in the past year or anytime previous. Stories are welcome, but if you prefer feel free just to say a name. And please join in offering thanks and praise to and for the saints.