How long, O Lord? - Psalm 13:1 (NRSV)
Until the third year, the seminary administrators had merely tolerated our annual All Saints Day lament for the Iraq War dead. They did not want to appear to be disapproving of an action organized by the school's social justice group, but neither did they want to seem overly political.
Truth is, no one wants to be confronted with the reality of death, especially death on a hard-to-fathom scale, especially death that indicts our complicity or highlights our vulnerability. But death must not be ignored, especially when the denial of death's power leads to more suffering and death.
By the third year of our public lament, we had developed an efficient system for making and displaying more than 3,300 luminaria, each one representing one U.S. military death. And still the process took all day. We had plenty of time to pray while we worked, and we had a public liturgy for remembering not only the American dead but also the 100,000 or more Iraqis killed. So obscene were the numbers by then that even the seminary administrators joined in.
As I write, nearly 400,000 people have died from Covid-19, with some 91,000 of those deaths occurring in the United States. And yet we have had no national mourning, no official acknowledgement of the individuals, families, and friends behind each number.
How much longer until we will open ourselves to the pain, mourn the dead, lament the suffering, and open the way to healing and re-ordering?
Our All Saints luminaria, placed in parallel rows that covered the wide hillside connecting the campus above to the heavily trafficked road below, created a powerful glow. Drivers would pull over to ask what our display was about. In that third year, one of those drivers was Dr. Anthony Fauci. He thanked us for lamenting the dead.
Lead us not into numbness, O Lord, but deliver us from denial.
Vicki Kemper is the Pastor of First Congregational, UCC, of Amherst, Massachusetts.