Sadly, suffering and tragedy are part of life—impossible to avoid. This week, for example, people all over the world were stunned by photos and video of Monday and Tuesday’s fire in Notre-Dame Cathedral. I spent Monday afternoon in a state of deep sorrow as I watched those destructive bright flames ravaging that revered house of prayer and worship. To say that it ruined my day would be a vast understatement. This was a church where Louise and I worshipped from the rear gallery, by the organ console, only last summer, and where I had attended many masses and organ recitals during my year of study in Paris. This fire was highly personal. But the fire was also the source of grief for millions of people who had never been to Paris, and who have never visited Notre-Dame Cathedral.

Sheryl Sandberg, in her book, Option B, describes the events surrounding the sudden death of her beloved husband, Dave Goldberg, at the age of 47. They had a beautiful marriage and friendship—and they had young children. Everyone experienced unconsolable suffering and loss. Shortly after Dave’s death, their rabbi advised Sherly to “lean in” towards the sad and difficult feelings she was experiencing—to “expect it to be awful.”

Tonight, during the final part of our Maundy Thursday service, we will commemorate the sorrowful and grievous death of Christ on the cross. Even for the disciples who had been told by Jesus that he would endure great suffering, the enactment of this agonizing and brutal “death penalty” must have been unbearably painful. And then, there was the sense of loss, uncertainty, and hopelessness. I am fairly sure that these followers of Jesus instinctively “leaned in” towards their grief over a death that was truly awful.

Many times, suffering and tragedy are followed by some sort of recovery and restoration, whether in part or in full. This seems to be the case with Notre-Dame, which promises to be rebuilt over the years. Likewise, Sheryl Sandberg, with the help of her family, friends, colleagues, and spiritual advisors, is working her way through the pain of loss.

Followers of Jesus, including the people of River Road Church, have an opportunity each Holy Week to commemorate the Last Supper and then to “lean in” to the agony of Christ’s crucifixion and death as the sanctuary darkens at the end of our Maundy Thursday service. By acknowledging the loss, we can rejoice with greater zeal and devotion when we celebrate the the restorative joy of the resurrection on Easter. Come to church tonight for the Service of Holy Communion and Tenebrae—“lean in.”

Written by Bob Gallagher