We are in a time of tremendous grief and loss; yet we are assured that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. (Listen.)
I can’t count the losses. Sure, nobody I know has died; but I’ve seen my beloved father in the flesh only once in six months. Most of my friends I haven’t seen at all. My children’s schooling has been interrupted; activities are on hold; hanging out with their friends feels fraught. My oldest daughter is finishing high school, and nobody knows what the next year holds. Will there be work? Can she live in college? Will university lectures be face-to-face, or simply online?
My husband can’t attend his workplace in Melbourne; he’s frantically juggling work, staff and other people’s expectations from afar. Friends and family have lost their jobs, and the economic outlook is very grim. Friends who are caregivers are still reeling from the first shutdown; some are drowning in the midst of the second while others, not shutdown just yet, are absolutely dreading the possibility. People are dropping off the radar, falling down the rabbit holes of Netflix, Facebook, alcohol and online shopping; others are self-harming.
Church is weird without meals or bodies or singing. Zoom doesn’t really work for children, teens, and others among us, but I do not know what else to do. The old ways are gone; the new are not yet here; but many of us do not have the energy or will to hang in through this limbo period, or to dream the new into being. I wonder how many we will lose, young and old, from the church universal. My sense of community feels fragmented, precarious. Nothing is normal; everything’s changed; everyone’s exhausted and anxious and afraid.
I look at the news and feel worse. What’s looming in Warrnambool feels ominous; what’s unfolding in Melbourne is scary; what’s happening overseas is terrifying. People losing two, five, even ten family members to COVID-19; I can’t imagine the depths of their grief. People stuck in prisons or refugee camps with nowhere safe to go. Households shut into tiny flats; aged care residents vulnerable and sick; frontline workers infected and dying; people of colour neglected and ignored. Politicians using the pandemic to further politicize public health, stoke racism, stack elections, and fuel civic strife. Thousands dying. Millions going hungry. Continuing climate collapse. And everywhere I look, suffering and death.
My friends, this is what grief is made of. We here in south west Victoria may not be dropping like flies. We may not be filling our hospitals; we may not be mourning our dead; we may not be facing the same level of crisis as people in other places. Even so, we too have lost much, and we, like everyone, are grieving.
And grief builds up, and grief wakes up those sleeping losses we never fully grieve. I find myself talking daily to my mother, dead these twenty years; and longing for my grandparents and the world that passed away with them. I’m revisiting the many moves we made when I was a child, and mourning again the friends I lost contact with, the houses I no longer live in, the cities I no longer walk through, the lack of continuity in my life. I weep over small things. I weep for loss, and loneliness, and fear; I weep for what the future holds.
This is why I’m here. I’m here because I’m lonely and anxious and afraid; I’m here because I’m sad. I’m here because I need people to worship with and pray with; I need people to help me remember God’s promises and experience God’s love. I’m here because I cannot do it alone or go it alone or be resilient alone. I’m here because I need other people to keep me walking towards Jesus and the peace and wholeness he brings, even and especially in the midst of suffering and death.
I’m here to dwell in God’s Word, because nothing else feeds me, or comforts me, or sustains me quite like it. I’m here because I do not really know how to pray, but I trust that when we’re gathered together, the Spirit intercedes for us, pleading with God for us in groans that words cannot express.
In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul asks, ‘Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or violence?’ And I look around at the hardship and distress and persecution and hunger and poverty and danger and violence in this world: and I realise, if Paul is right, then:
Coronavirus and shutdown cannot separate us from God’s love.
Corrupt world leaders and rapacious politicians cannot separate us from God’s love.
Police brutality and white privilege cannot separate us from God’s love.
Unemployment and a bleak economic future cannot separate us from God’s love.
Months apart from family and friends cannot separate us from God’s love.
Anxiety, fear and grief cannot separate us from God’s love.
Even sickness and death cannot separate us from God’s love.
Indeed, writes Paul, ‘I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depths, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.’
My friends, in these deeply turbulent and troubling times, I need so much to hear these words with you. This is why I am here. Ω
Closing Prayer: Go now, and know that of this we may be sure: Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor health, nor sickness, nor wealth, nor poverty, nor Indigeneity, nor white privilege, nor ordinary life, nor shutdown, nor family politics, nor sibling rivalry, nothing that exists, nothing still to come, nor any power, nor height, nor depth, nor anything in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
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