It Didn’t Have to Be This Way
Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. – Hebrews 12:1-2a (NRSV)
Nick Kendall, a member of my church for 51 years, joined the cloud of witnesses this year, sent on his way by the indiscriminately cruel coronavirus. As did Jonas King, father of my friend Marshall, who would have turned 83 today. As did Ann Harb, grandmother of church member Ryan.
Then there’s Betty Gionti, Gerry Peterson, Sterling Lamet, and countless others whose families have been waiting for months to publicly celebrate their lives and mourn their deaths – waiting until we can gather safely again.
It didn’t have to be this way.
On a normal All Saints Day, members of my church would bring photos of their departed loved ones to the front of our sanctuary while singing “For All the Saints” against the backdrop of majestic organ accompaniment.
Instead, because of the pandemic, today’s livestream worship will feature a video of our photos. There will be no gathering to share stories, no gentle hands wiping away tears, no comforting hugs shared.
Normally, we would speak the names of our saints as we gathered around the communion table, proclaiming their presence with us and declaring their membership in that great cloud. Today our virtual congregation will also speak the names of Black people killed by police.
Before so many lives were cut short by Covid-19, All Saints Day was a welcome reminder that our loved ones, though gone from this life, now cheer us on from their home in God’s heart. Today we grieve so much unnecessary death, and we allow ourselves to feel anger as well as loss, with a renewed commitment to the sacredness of life on earth as well as hope in life eternal.
For all the saints who in your glory shine, we praise you for their still-bright light in our lives. And we miss them.
Vicki Kemper is the Pastor of First Congregational, UCC, of Amherst, Massachusetts.