Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord, Jesus, the Christ.
I can barely recall all the funerals I have conducted since the summer of 1988. If I am not too far off in my counting, I think the number hovers around 230. But, I know that each time I had the privilege to preach Christ crucified and Risen, those who loved the deceased person best encountered what we call a ‘new Normal’. Life without the companionship of a spouse, a parent, a child, a good friend, does indeed create a ‘new Normal’.
I am not even sure how that phrase got started. I think 9/11 was the beginning of the expression and since the economic melt-down in 2008 we can hear it wherever we go. At times it seems that every little change creates a ‘new Normal’ – and that is probably not reasonable to assert. However, at this very moment in history around the known world, the phrase hits the nail on the head: we are in a ‘new Normal’.
The patterns of our lives have changed entirely since we heard the peculiar expression: Corona Virus/COVID-19. We have not just lost our schedules and routines we have gained a respiratory virus, a ‘silent enemy’, an unseen, yet powerful force. This brings us grief upon grief as months have passed and more and more is lost. After a spring lost to isolation and restrictions, the hoped for summer relief has not materialized and as it looks, the upcoming fall already is being blown away not by wind but by COVID-19. We have lost so much. We hurt so much. We have so many questions.
There are some things that help with our grief. Visitations and funerals provide a sense of closure. But as the world is being placed behind the pall of Covid-19, we cannot morn our losses in the same way. The life we lived before this year is before our eyes – we can see it, but we cannot grasp it. Frustration builds. We hear that we must do things in different ways, but we cannot always see why. We look for ways to cope and we hear different things wherever we turn. We hear different stories. We look for hope, but it often seems as invisible as the virus.
The Apostle Paul encouraged the Romans in this way, “I consider that the sufferings of this present me are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18) He did not deny the fact that we are suffering. He did not deny the pain that exists staring across the gulf between the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom and the world in which he lived. Throughout his life St. Paul suffered for the sake of a future he saw in Christ and knew the discomfort, the pain, the struggle was worth the new reality. “As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
Paul feels poured out, as many of us feel, stretched thin and empty. The struggles have worn at him, truly grieved and afflicted him. If he were to deny the suffering, he would deny the transformation at work. If he were to have avoided the suffering, the reward of what is to be revealed would not be his. It is important to realize that St. Paul did not ask for his suffering – he did not think that he should suffer purposefully to be closer to God… nor did he confuse his suffering with the redemptive suffering of his/our Lord Jesus.
A future world, with Covid-19 under control, will hopefully look very close to what the world was before February 2020. Still, from what we hear today, even that time might well be a ‘new Normal’. The pain, suffering, and uncertainty the disease brought with it, are real. Grieving for our losses as a world, a nation, a state, a county, a community, is necessary work for building the hope that will carry us through. As we grieve what was and look forward to what will be, please be kind to yourself and others.
Grief is more than an emotion. Our whole selves endure grief in proportion to what is lost. Our experience, our suffering, our loss is not the same as that of the next person. All of us are affected differently. Covid-19 has stolen different things from different people and their experiences of grief may be deeper or less intense than yours. Yet, it is still grief and honoring the experience of it leads to transformation. So, we do not say, “do not grieve,” because grief forges hope within. Hope that the specter of Covid-19 will diminish as our understanding and medical advances grow. Grief lifts the pains of this life up to God in sacred lamentation. Know that our grief is real, our lament is holy, and our struggles are honored by the God who does not exempt us from suffering, but carries us through it…with hope. Amen.