From the Pastor's Desk...
- John 11:35
It has been exactly one year since the world changed. I distinctly remember the second week of March, 2020. Sara's spring soccer season was under way, I was coaching her team, and we were excited about how good they looked. March Madness in NCAA basketball was just beginning as the conference tournaments, including the ACC Tournament with my Duke Blue Devils and the SEC Tournament with the Arkansas Razorbacks had their early round games played, and the better teams just about to tip off. My dearest friends were scheduled to come to my house for our annual fantasy baseball draft and dinner. We were hard into the season of Lent with Holy Week and Easter right around the corner. March is usually one of my favorite times of the year.
Of course, we had heard about the coronavirus. We had seen the reports in January from Wuhan, China. We had witnessed the cruise ships that were having trouble finding a port. We heard about the first few cases in Washington state. And while it seemed so far away, in our closely connected world, it was looming. Yet somehow it almost snuck up on me. Did it sneak up on you? How quickly things shut down?
At our last Wednesday Night Meal, I remember talking with Joe Archer and Seth Glaze about how we probably needed to be ready to close the building for worship on the upcoming Sunday (that would be March 15). While we all agreed that it might be premature to actually do so, we agreed that we should probably be ready. So, I chatted with David Puckett about what it would look like to do online worship. Thank goodness for David Puckett, Julia Stinson, Dana Teel, Robin Roark, and Rachel Wingate. Our worship team pivoted so quickly it allowed us to keep worshipping even if we couldn't be in the building. And then the Sheridan Schools closed. And everything else did, too.
Even if you don't remember that week as clearly as I do (and I'm sure many of you do), we all remember the past year. Some memories of the past 365 days are clear to me, but many are hazy. I am also exceedingly mindful that whatever difficulties I have had in the last year, my difficulties are a vision of heaven for about 75% of the people on our planet. But that doesn't change how hard it has been for all of us.
To date, over 520,000 Americans have died. To put that in perspective, that is as many war deaths as the US suffered in World War I and World War II combined (or as many as WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and the Revolutionary War combined). Every one of us knows someone who has either died from covid or knows a family who has suffered a covid death. Many of us have contracted the virus. We all know many people who have suffered from covid. Because of the nature of this virus, we have not been able to mourn those who have died, either from covid or for any other reason, in the way in which we are accustomed. We have not held a funeral in our sanctuary in a year. Families have not been able to gather in our Grand Hall to have a meal together. Friends, neighbors, and family have not visited in the homes of the families of those who have died.
In so many ways, our grief has been practiced alone.
This week, Governor Hutchinson announced the next phase of those eligible for the coronavirus vaccine shot, which included clergy and staff members of houses of worship. I received my first shot on Wednesday. Throughout the week I have seen my colleagues post on Facebook or text me pictures of them with their vaccine record or actually getting their shot. Many have commented about how emotional they were to receive it and how surprised they were that they became emotional. Perhaps it is not so surprising after all, as we have had an entire year of trauma and have not spent time to grieve.
We have all suffered loss, even loss beyond the dead and the seriously ill. Think of all that we have missed! A class of seniors who did not have the final months of high school or college the way that they had hoped; no prom or graduation, no recognition for the completion of an academic degree. Sports seasons that were cancelled: from those who were at the SEC tournament last spring and came home without seeing a game, to those who missed playing soccer or baseball or other spring sports; vacations that were cancelled and the memories that weren't made because of it; meals that were eaten alone, meals that were eaten at home because the restaurant was closed; meals that weren't eaten at all because there wasn't enough in the wallet to buy groceries; jobs that were lost; job advancements that weren't made; jobs that had to be done at home in the dining room while kids were in the background; deals that weren't made because closing is harder online or on the phone than it is in person; learning that has not taken place because it is so much harder on zoom than it is in the classroom; teaching that wasn't accomplished not through lack of effort but because while zoom is a blessing it is also limited; holidays that weren't celebrated or were only celebrated in limited ways; elderly family who could not be visited in the nursing home; surgeries that have been needed, but have been put off; check-ups that have been skipped; hands that have not been shaken, necks that have not been hugged. So much more. So much more.
This past year we have done our best. We have adjusted. We have kept putting one foot in front of the other and kept slogging on. What else could we do? We had to keep working, to keep parenting, to keep educating, to keep living. While we could shelter in place and quarantine, we couldn't permanently shut everything down. So, we haven't taken time to grieve everyone and everything that we have lost. When we do not properly grieve, a few things happen. We sink into acute depression, we run the risk of self-blame, we risk acute anxiety, and all of these things lead to the risk of serious health and lifestyle diseases. We do not all grieve the same way or at the same pace. Kubler-Ross has the five stages of grief, but these need not be accomplished linearly or in succession. But we all must grieve loss. And we have all, every one of us, lost someone or something (or perhaps many of the above) in the past year.
Even our Lord grieved. His friend, Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, got sick and died. When Jesus arrived at their home, he wept. Jesus grieved. Why, if he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, would Jesus grieve? What was so sad for Jesus if he could bring his friend back? Let us remember that our Lord was just as human as you and I. Grieving loss is one of the key parts of being a human. Even if Jesus could (and did) resurrect Lazarus, death had visited his inner circle. No matter how you cut it, that is devastating. We could hardly know Jesus as fully human had he not grieved his friend's death! Though it is the shortest verse in the Bible, it is one of the most comforting to me. "Jesus wept" tells me that Jesus intimately and fully knows what grief feels like. Jesus has experienced that awful feeling of emptiness in one's stomach. Like me, Jesus has sobbed uncontrollably. The God we worship is one who reached a point where he could do nothing other than weep, because his body would do nothing else for the sadness and loss he felt.
I am still not sure how to grieve an entire pandemic or an entire year. I do not know exactly how to mourn something that is still ongoing, even if we hopefully see an end to it. Clergy and pastors far smarter and more creative than I continue to try to figure out how we can help our churches and faith communities through “all of this” even as they/we try to figure out how to help one another mourn. All I know right now is that first, it is ok to not be ok. Second, our Lord knows what we are going through because he has gone through it, too.
I am praying for each of you, my dear friends in Christ, and I am praying for us. In the midst of all of this loss, I weep with you and I love you. If you are not weeping now, that is ok, too. What is on the other side of this pandemic, the end of this pandemic, is not that "everything will be all right," because it is over, but rather that in the fullness of time we will be restored to wholeness and wellness through our shared grief with one another and with our God, not in spite of our grief that we let go unacknowledged.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’”
Revelation 21: 1-4
Nursery/Childcare to Re-Open
Beginning Sunday, March 14, childcare will be provided in the church nursery during worship and Sunday School. Please remember to follow as many covid safety protocols as possible.
Covid Protocol Update
Pre-registration on sign-up genius is no longer necessary for worship. We will continue to maintain other Covid safety protocols including masks, safety bubbles, and hand sanitization. We look forward to seeing you in the sanctuary for worship (online worship will also continue)!