by Jennifer Michael
This past week, there has been a sadness about my heart. There is the sadness that comes from being a pastor and lamenting the loss of physically worshiping together with my congregation during Holy Week.
But more acutely, I am sad about the news that our beloved sister, Nancy Giddings, has died. As many of you know, Nancy was a true light in our Women of the ELCA organization. There are no words that can fully capture just how luminous was her spirit and how faithful was her heart.
Death is a common experience in our lives. Whether expected or not, we know that part of being human is finite and mortal. But in these times of pandemic, our normal means of dealing with death have been stymied.
Where is the comfort?
Suddenly, the pastoral care that I might provide to someone grieving a loved one has to include conversations about social distancing and limited exposure. Where is the comfort of a “shoulder to cry on?” Whose arms will wrap around the widow or the crying child? How do we say goodbye when we can’t even saying hello?
There are practical ways to navigate this unfamiliar landscape of funerals and memorials. A recent webinar hosted by LEAD, an organization that supports leadership training for the church (https://waytolead.org/), laid out some specific options that might be helpful. These included:
- Encouraging people who are already “sheltering in place” together to gather and talk about their loved one; maybe even do a conference call with another small group.
- Hosting a live remembrance via technology on Facebook or Zoom.
- Planning a larger gathering when possible in the future, which may be in months or more.
- Live-streaming or using Facebook Live to share the funeral with people who cannot gather.
An example of how faith sustains
But while those practical solutions might be, well, practical, I don’t think that they get at the heart of what it means for humans to grieve the death of someone we love.
Long before I became a rostered leader in the ELCA, I was a woman of faith profoundly influenced by other women of faith in this WELCA community; women like my friend Nancy Giddings. She would be the first one to talk about her own struggles in life and how only when she turned to Jesus was she able to carry on. She was a shining example of how faith can sustain us.
This, too, should be our response as we consider how to grieve in these times of uncertainty and chaos when our usual way of dealing with death and loss are obscured and disrupted. After all, this is Holy Week. And each day we stand in the shadow of the cross knowing what is at the end: resurrection and eternal life.
We might not know where the ending of this crisis is. But we do know that God is with us–through the whole scope of human life. God is with us through our living and our dying, through our joy and our sorrow.
We are a resurrection people, and God will never forsake us.
The Rev. Jennifer Michael is pastor at Saint Peter Lutheran Church, Battle Creek, Mich. She was president of Women of the ELCA’s executive board from 2011-2014.