“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” John 11:32
2.6 million people. That's the number of people who have died around the world this year from Covid-19. March 11, 2021 marks the one year anniversary since the World Health Organization named Covid-19 as a global pandemic, setting in motion the experience and turmoil we have lived through together this year. An anniversary we mark with somber remembrance and awareness that the huge number of deaths we have experienced this year are not just random other people; they are us.
The closely knit relationship between all of us as a human family resonates with the passage of John, known as the death of Lazarus. In it we experience the deep and abiding pain of a family that has lost someone very important to them, a family which includes Jesus. Jesus is a friend of the family with Lazarus as the brother of Mary and Martha, two prominent figures in Jesus’ life. So this is not just any death for Jesus it's a close death, which is why this passage holds the shortest and most soul stirring comment on Jesus’ emotions anywhere in scripture. It records that at the news of the death and the pain he saw in the family which gathered to tell him that “He wept.” He wept at the death of a friend, the anguish of a family, and all the questions about God and God's relationship to this situation. He wept because he was human, just like we have wept during this time too, and how situations like this don't have easy answers- just tears. It is in his weeping that we start to find a way of expressing together how we are feeling about what we are currently experiencing.
Over the last year we have wept at the sheer magnitude of this pandemic, from its restrictions on our life, to the separation of our families and friends, and even at the uncertainty of when this will all end. It has been a roller coaster of life and emotions which is beginning to take its toll as we come to grips with the mental health effects it's causing and the economic challenges we are facing from lost jobs and uncertain housing. So where is there resurrection in this moment for us? How do we process what has happened? I believe that we must weep over the body before we can see the resurrection, which is about coming together in a common cause.
This is why, as a society, we come together for civic moments of remembrance. We mark the moment, the grief, the pain, by naming the body–the absence of what was– to help us process what is to come. Our traditions help us navigate this space of grief and isolation by forming a common language of expression. When Princess Diana died, the common language was the sea of flowers outside her home. At the end of the World Wars it was the poppy, and trumpets, and silence. At our funerals it is the committal back to the earth from which we were born, among many other cultural expressions. These moments shape us by bringing a shared expression of emotion and purpose, which brings language to our grief, a language we are invited to share again this week as we stop to mark this somber anniversary.
I invite you to join me on March 11 at sunset (6:12pm) to light a candle and place it in your window as a visual reminder of the presence of God with us in our grief, one year on. Our windows can be virtual and physical, with a virtual candle included as a download in this letter for you to share on your social media in tandem with your physical candles as well. As you light this candle, pray for the 2.6 million people who have died worldwide, for their families, their communities, and for those who have worked to keep us safe. On Sunday, March 14 at 10:30 am, we will gather around the Altar via live stream and zoom callin, but will not begin with a song- but three minutes of silence to remember all those who have died and those still affected by this pandemic.
Come and pray with me tomorrow, March 11th and on Sunday March 14th, as we mark this anniversary in our life together. Invite your family and friends to join us in this work of marking this moment, a moment so deeply woven in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection before us. A resurrection which begins first by naming the loss.
May we remember, to never forget them.
these lands upon which we worship as the ancestral, cultural, traditional and unceded lands of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) people from time immemorial.