Resilience in Ambiguity

Resilience in Ambiguity

Homily for Epiphany III

January 23, 2022

Resilience in Ambiguity

The concept of “glory” for most people remains just that: a concept. This morning I want to give some color to “glory,” to make it more concrete and to tell why it might matter in our lives. And I want to begin not with glory but with the pandemic, loss and the myth of closure.

In the pandemic, we have experienced loss. We have lost not only health and lives and livelihoods, but also we have lost smaller things that make up a life, things like: going to the movies, eating at a restaurant, having birthday parties, gathering with neighbors, going to the gym without worry, going to the grocery store without worry, visiting family without worry, or simply “living life” without the constant worry of becoming ill, and, if so, how ill? In the pandemic we have experienced loss.

In her recently-published book, The Myth of Closure, Dr. Pauline Boss, on faculty at the University of Minnesota, writes the following about loss:

I have learned with each loss that “getting over it” is not possible… closure is a myth…. In this time of great loss from the pandemic there will be no closure… Our task now…is to acknowledge our losses, name them, find meaning in them, and let go of the quest for closure….

Boss’s words were hard to hear. I like to think that we can get over loss, that we can find “closure.” And yet as I consider my own losses, Boss’s words resonate: Sometimes “‘getting over it’ is not possible,” and “closure is a myth.”

In today’s Gospel Jesus begins his public ministry with a return to his hometown of Nazareth where he began to teach in their synagogue. Reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus says,

The spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and… to let the oppressed go free.

Within minutes, in a passage we will hear next week, those who “spoke well of him and were amazed by the gracious words coming from his mouth” would get up, drive him out of town, and lead him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. Though Jesus would not then lose his life—he “passed through the midst of them and went on his way,” writes Luke—we can only imagine the loss Jesus must have felt: not only did his own townspeople not understand him, not only did they reject him, not only did they drive him out of their town (his town), but they were filled with a rage such that they wanted to kill him. We can only imagine the loss Jesus must have felt because Luke writes merely that Jesus “passed through the midst of them and went on his way.”

In “passing through the midst of them and going on his way” after what must have been a painful experience of loss, Jesus exemplifies what Boss says we now need instead of closure: “It is resilience, not closure, that we now need,” she writes…

It is resilience—the ability to hold multiple, ambiguous feelings within us at the same time—that provides us with new hope and strength to live life in a new way… I now walk with the tension of imperfect solutions and balance them with the joys and passions in my daily life. I intentionally hold the opposing ideas of absence and presence, because I have learned that most human relationships are indeed both.

Again, Boss’s words were difficult to hear. It’s uncomfortable to hold “multiple, ambiguous feelings” at the same time, and I don’t want to walk perpetually with “the tension of imperfect solutions” in my life. Yet, as I consider the options—and as I consider Jesus’ example of “passing through the midst of them and going on his way,” presumably with “multiple, ambiguous feelings” and in the “tension of imperfect solutions ”—Boss’s words resonate. I can either expend time and energy trying to arrive at that elusive place we call “closure,” or I can like Jesus pass through the midst of all this and go on my way, holding multiple, ambiguous feelings, and walking with the “tension of imperfect solutions.”

The townspeople who tried to kill Jesus were not resilient—they could not “hold multiple, ambiguous feelings” about Jesus, who offered words at once grace-filled and challenging; they were not open to learning that “most human relationship are indeed both” grace-filled and challenging. If we Christians are to offer new hope and strength to our world, it will help to learn resilience—now we are people who hope for the good news and release of which Jesus speaks in today’s Gospel; and now we are those who mourn for the losses COVID has wrought. Now of all times we Christians are called to a resilience in which we can move in one minute from rejoicing that “this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” to in the next able to feel grief, and acknowledging and honoring loss.

Each Sunday when we gather for Eucharist, we practice this resilience. For in the Eucharist we hold in tension Jesus’ death and resurrection: “We remember his death,” we say, and, “We proclaim his resurrection.” We Christians have never “gotten over” Jesus’ death—we’ve never found “closure”; rather, in the Eucharist we continue to remember it, and also to proclaim his resurrection.


I pray that as we hear this morning’s and then next week’s Gospel, and as we through the Eucharist continue to hold within us multiple, ambiguous feelings surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection, [I pray] that we may learn not only resilience, but something else that is closely related: “glory” could be described as the result of living into the multiple ambiguities and tensions surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection; when we not only in our worship but in our lives “remember his death… proclaim his resurrection, [and] await his coming in glory.”

Glory is the result of living into the multiple ambiguities and tensions surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection. Perhaps even now, as we remember and proclaim his death and resurrection—and as we in our lives manifest his death and resurrection—we will not only glimpse ourselves but maybe even bear witness to others of his “glory.” A strange glory rife with ambiguity and tension that in a mysterious way possesses power to inspire, and to give our world new hope and strength to live life in a new way.

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