Before you read any further I want to let you know that the subject is suicide. I understand that this may be difficult for some people to read. If your life has been touched by suicide and you would like to talk, please feel free to contact me at pastor [at] MCCsudbury [dot] org
We don’t often talk about the book of Revelation in church. The last book of the Bible has been interpreted by some as a literal prophecy on how the world will end. I don’t at all believe that to be the truth but, I still don’t talk about Revelation much. It’s a scary and confusing. There are supernatural images of giant dragons and beasts, and baffling metaphors that can only be truly understood with a lot of study of their original context. The part of the text that was read today, actually the very end of the book, is often interpreted as the “second coming” of Jesus and the end of the world. Out of context, it’s frightening. It’s hard to understand, it doesn’t make sense, it’s difficult to talk about. So we don’t.
But, of all the places we go in life, of all the communities of which we may count ourselves a part, church is precisely the place where we should be able to talk about the difficult and scary and confusing things that we encounter in our lives.
One of the many blessings of Memorial Congregational Church is the time when we share the joys and concerns of our lives. This time of prayer has proven to be a moment when our lives come together. In the midst of our joyous prayers of thanksgiving for healings, life milestones, and safety, many of us have also found the courage and the strength to speak about those scary and confusing struggles that we sometimes face deep down in our souls. We’ve prayed for loved ones who are sick and dying and talked about our own illnesses, we’ve expressed grief when we’ve lost someone, and we’ve asked for help when we need it. Our time of joys and concerns has become the true heart of our community, a time to bear our souls and shed our tears.
But still, even in the midst of our courageous sharing, there are still difficult, scary, confusing subjects that we avoid talking about.
One of the scariest and most confusing is suicide.
Unfortunately, even though our society doesn’t often discuss it, suicide is a growing epidemic in our country. In 2010 (the most recent year for which data are available), Over 38,000 suicide deaths were reported in the United States, making suicide the tenth leading cause of death for Americans. That year, someone in the U.S. died by suicide every 13.7 minutes. And this isn’t a problem that only affects people outside of these walls. Many of us in this congregation have had their lives touched by suicide. Including me.
Last summer my cousin Jared died by suicide. It was a shock. He had exhibited no signs that anyone noticed. Jared was in his early thirties, he had a wife and a young daughter, a large family and many friends who loved him. He died on a Saturday and I struggled with how to share the news in church on Sunday. I didn’t know what to say to anyone. So, I just told you that he died and I asked for your prayers. When someone asked specific questions about Jared, I gave vague answers. I wasn’t clear about the circumstances of his death. I was scared and confused and I didn’t want anyone to think that my cousin was a bad person or that my family had made some kind of a mistake, that we missed something obvious. I didn’t want to be uncomfortable and I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable. So I didn’t talk about it.
Some in the church recognized that my vague responses were clues into a deeper grief. They saw how I avoided specifics and skirted my way around direct answers. And they knew. Well, maybe they didn’t outright know but they had an idea about what I was trying to conceal. So they approached me and asked me – fairly directly – if my cousin died by suicide. And when I was able to truthfully answer that question, I found that it was a relief – because I could be honest with myself and with them, because I could share my story with them. And because they could share their story with me.
When our lives are touched by suicide we often feel alone. When we allow ourselves to share that information, we realize how many others have experienced it as well. As I shared my story, I was able to hear from many others who had lost someone to suicide and to realize that I was not alone.
Many of us are not aware of how many here today have been experienced a loss like this. If you’re life has been touched by suicide, and if you are comfortable doing so, would you please raise your hand?
This is not foreign to us. This is a serious problem and it’s not going away. But it’s scary and confusing so we don’t talk about it. Maybe we don’t talk about our own pain because we are afraid of the stigma that is attached to suicide, maybe we don’t talk to survivors of suicide because we don’t know what to say or we’re afraid that we’ll somehow make it worse.
But, we’re here, in church, in the sight of God, in community with each other, in a room that we call a sanctuary. We’re here in a safe place now; a safe place where we can speak about these scary and confusing topics. This is where we can come to admit that we’re scared, that we’re not sure what to say, that we’re afraid to say the wrong thing. This is where we can look at our friends and say “I’m hurting, will you help me?”
In our reading from John this morning, Jesus talks about his relationship with God the Creator. Jesus prays that our relationship with him will be as close as his relationship with God, a relationship that, for some of us, mirrors the relationship between a mother and child, one of caring and understanding; a bond so strong that it’s difficult to describe. And Jesus prays that our relationship with each other will be just as close. Revelation speaks of the relationship between the church and Christ as one of bride and bridegroom.
We come together as a faith community because of these God-given relationships. We seek to be as close as God and Jesus, as close as Jesus and us, as close as parent and child, so that we can support each other through the hard times and so that we can be honest about the scary and confusing issues in our lives.
If you are a survivor of suicide, know that you are not alone. Know that God is with you. Know that you are in a community that cares for you, that wants to help you, even if we are sometimes scared to reach out.
If you know someone who is a survivor, don’t be afraid to talk with them, be with them, to offer your support. God is with you, working through you. You don’t have to try and make things better, or to try and make the pain go away – you won’t be able to – but when you have the strength and courage to simply say “I’m here for you,” you can make a world of difference. Too often, survivors feel abandoned because their community, even their closest friends, don’t know what to say so they don’t say anything. Survivors of suicide need your support, they need your hugs, your prayers, your ears. If you are afraid about saying the wrong thing, just listen. Sometime in the future, either over the summer or in the Fall, we hope to hold a gathering at the church to talk about how to talk about suicide. But if you ever have questions about how to help, please come and talk to me.
We are God’s hands and feet in this world. We are called to let God’s Spirit work through us. If you are ever concerned that someone in your life may be thinking about suicide, please talk to them. You can play a role in suicide prevention by pointing out the alternatives, showing that you care, and getting a doctor or psychologist involved. Speak up, if you are worried. Don’t argue with them, just let them know that you care. And don’t be afraid to reach out for help, call me, call 911, bring them to the ER. Trust your instincts.
And if you ever find yourself thinking about suicide: please know that you are not alone, help is available. Call 1-800-273-TALK. Call me, speak with others at church or others in your life. Call 1-800-273-TALK. When you feel like all hope is gone, reach out for someone else. Call 1-800-273-TALK. God is with you and so is your community. We want to help you.
MCC is a special community, a place where we can come and talk about the scary and confusing things in our lives. It’s the place to come and find the support that we seek and to give support to others. No matter how difficult, God gives us the strength to have the conversation. See, Revelation isn’t about Jesus coming to end the world, it’s about Christ, the Anointed One, entering into us, God dwelling within us so that we can be there for each other, together drinking freely the water of life even – especially – during the scary and confusing times in our lives.
If you are in pain, reach out. If you see someone in pain, reach out. Have courage, believe that God is with you. The Anointed One says: Yes. I am coming soon. To which we say, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.