Called to RegretA sermon for Lent 5 March 26, 2023 by Sebastian Meadows-Helmer
Our overarching theme this Lent is
“Unfinished: discovering God’s call in the not yet”,
and today’s story of the Resurrection of Lazarus is a great way to illustrate how we live in an Unfinished space:
we know the Resurrection has happened for Lazarus and for Jesus,
and we know it is in the cards for us as well…
but God’s Resurrection Call hasn’t yet happened for us or our loved ones,
and so we wait and discover how we can have patience for the “not yet” of resurrection in our own lives.
Today’s theme is “Called to Regret”,
So it’s good to start with a definition of the word “regret”.
The origin of the word is in a dislike or an aversion;
in other words, something that we might not like or try to avoid.
Regret is “emotional pain on account of something done
or experienced in the past
with a wish that it had been different”.
It is a “looking back with dissatisfaction or longing.”
When we regret something, we wish we had done something different,
and are dissatisfied with the choice we took in the past.
When you think of regret, perhaps you think of a time when tears welled up for you in deep sorrow.
Perhaps because of an experience that was simply or profoundly sad:
Perhaps recalling the onset of the COVID lockdowns,
and the need to cancel family get-togethers or funerals,
Perhaps an experience like the loss of a job
or something more tragic like the death of a pet, a child, spouse, or parent.
We could find many examples of our own regret:
I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had continued my violin career, and I experience a small tinge of longing even 19 years later, from time to time.
Perhaps your regrets might involve missing out on true love,
Or lamenting the loss of relationship to divorce or separation or abuse,
Or not applying to that job that could have been great.
Perhaps you regret not spending more time with your children
or loved ones,
Or saying “I love you” enough while they were alive.as the saying goes, nobody ever said at the end of their life
“I wish I spent more time at the office”.
Perhaps you’ve been staring at an unfinished house project like an unpainted wall and saying to yourself:
“if only I’d have the energy to complete this task.”
How do feelings of regret occur?
Sometimes they are brought on by something
that is only slightly linked to the original event.
For example watching a happy couple flirting on the street
might bring back memories of a relationship from decades ago.
Observing someone very skilled at one’s previous hobby,
For example watching a professional hockey player could unleash a torrent of “what if I was only a better player growing up,
or had gotten onto the right team.”
Christmas Eve is often a time which is tinged with regret:
at special holidays one often notices who is missing.
The Christmas Eve service is often so emotionally powerful
because as you get older, you notice more and more how all the people you used to celebrate Christmas with are no longer there
(although maybe some new ones like grandkids have arrived.)
Regret can occur by observing things we have done,
which we regret doing, but I think almost more often, regret happens when we don’t do
what we later realize we should have done.
So regret can be of actions not done or words unsaid,
as well as of words said or actions done.
Regret is a powerful human emotion,
and I wonder whether Jesus too,
experienced regret in our story today of the Raising of Lazarus.
Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha was ill:
This message had been sent to Jesus,
but for some reason Jesus stayed 2 days longer in the place where he was.
This seems frustrating: why would Jesus delay visiting his close friend?
It seems uncharacteristic of the compassionate Jesus we think we know.
On the other hand, it also feels real…you know…that’s life…
sometimes we delay visits to loved ones…
stuff gets in the way…
something pressing comes up and you don’t make that call..
When Jesus finally arrives:
Martha laments with regret: “if you only had been here
my brother would not have died.”
It really is too bad! I hoped you would have come,
but I understand that you’re busy.
What if you had come in time?
“But even now God will grant your request (to raise him).”
When Jesus saw Mary and all those around weeping
he was greatly disturbed
in spirit and was deeply moved.
Now this is very special moment.
We hear that Jesus is moved, troubled and frustrated,
maybe even angry.
He’s disturbed just like how the calm surface of a body of water, like a lake at dawn, is disturbed
by a rock thrown into it.
Perhaps he’s even almost physically sickened,
like when you receive news which makes you feel sick to your stomach.
Perhaps he was frustrated at the human condition,
how death can come so suddenly and unexpectedly,
“why do bad things happen to good people?”
He was grieving the loss of his dear friend,
And maybe he even experienced regret, maybe he regretted delaying leaving,
esp. seeing how much sorrow was shown by all Lazarus’ friends
We also hear that Jesus wept,
And this is a very different type of weeping,
a holy weeping perhaps.
It could be just grief, but perhaps a sorrow arising from regret.
He wasn’t there when Lazarus was ill,
He couldn’t comfort him;
Things were left unfinished when his beloved friend died.
Jesus’ weeping calls to us in our own experiences of weeping.
Jesus meets us in our regrets and our sorrow,
And gives permission for our own sorrow
It reminds us that Jesus was also human,
and so he knows what it means to experience grief.
This can be a comforting feeling to know that God understands our grief and pain because God has gone through it as well,
The story of Lazarus reminds us that even a relationship with Jesus doesn’t prevent bad things from happening;
Tombs and grave clothes mark our lives
Sickness and death are real,
And regret and sorrow can cloud our lives all too often.
Regret can be debilitating when we get lost in the “what ifs, “
And “if only’s” of the unfinished spaces of our lives.
These are powerful emotions.
Sometimes it can be hard to name our regrets:
and they remain just a vague longing, or a distant memory.
But voicing our regrets can help transform them.
“Naming and facing our regrets help turn hindsight into insight
so that even our regrets can be experiences of call for us that move us to something different in the future.” Charlene Cox tells us.
As we acknowledge our regrets
and normalize the feelings associated with them,
We can use these insights to help us lead new lives filled with more life and purpose, without getting stuck in the past.
For this of course, professional counselling can be beneficial,
As well as peer group support, such as grief peer groups, or groups of individuals who are experiencing the same situation,
Like “parents with young children with cancer” or AA.
Sorrow and regret can be used for good ends, if one can find ways to change
Or live in a new reality, and not just give up.
When we examine our moments of regret we can
Re-evaluate our choices and perhaps recognize that the best decision was taken
and no change is needed,
Or maybe decide to act or say things differently in the future.
As a community of faith,
We acknowledge the reality of regret in our rite of Confession and Forgiveness that we sometimes have at the beginning of worship services.
We express remorse for those things we have done and those things we have failed to do.
The rite of Confession and Forgiveness is designed to name our failings but also to remember the good news that all is forgiven through God’s grace so that we don’t need to be frozen in time
but can move on with our lives.
As we anticipate today’s Congregational meeting and reflect on congregational meetings past,
some of us might regret decisions made or not made,
Or regret things said or not said at meetings.
The story of Lazarus reminds the church to name regrets and question whether we could or should act differently.
Could we do better or be better?
Looking towards past church’s attitudes and actions towards marginalized people for example,
should our regret lead us to better paths?
For example with LGBTQ, Black Indigenous and People of Colour,
the mentally ill, migrants, neurodivergent people or the unhoused,
Regret could help the church continue to work harder for a more just society for all.
The story of Lazarus nudges us,
That we can gain new life now by making new choices!
Living in renewed relationships, and turning over a new leaf,
Empowered by God’s love which transcends death,
Because God is a friend of life!
This story can bring hope as
Jesus promises and brings new life even from our regrets.
There is a new possibility that opens up
“as we can be moved to new ways of being and doing”.
Like with Lazarus, Jesus too calls us out of our tomb.
As we remember Jesus’ tears of sorrow and regret,
Jesus meets us in our own sorrow and regret,
Jesus promises and brings new life even from these painful experiences,
Calling us from death to life.
Let us pray: Help us O God to learn from our regrets so that we might live more faithfully in each tomorrow. Amen.
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