By Bruce J. Clemenger. Read more of these columns with a free print subscription to Faith Today.
We are all in this together" is a phrase we’ve heard a lot recently, reminding us to make personal sacrifices in the fight against Covid-19.
It’s practical – assisting to flatten the curve to help our health care system from being overwhelmed. It’s motivational – affirming we are not alone in the practice of social distancing. It’s a line attempting to anchor thoughts in hope and temper emotions from despair.
Yet what happens when the restrictions are lifted? Many people’s lives resume somewhat as before while others continue to suffer the impact of the Covid-19 virus and restrictions. What happens to togetherness when hope is realized quickly by some, slower by others?
What happens to togetherness when hope is realized quickly by some, slower by others?
Some will start to feel they’ve made it through the storm, while others remain distraught at the divisions unearthed within hearts, minds and society.
Death and suffering caused directly by the virus or related medical postponements are just one category of loss. Others have lost livelihoods and homes. Significant personal sacrifices have become permanent personal losses.
Think of young people whose lives were about to soar with dreams of job offers or heading off to university, or those whose communal volunteer activities, lessons and clubs were terminated. Healthy childhoods have been permanently altered, with only the Band-Aid remedies of online videochats, organized games and virtual schooling – none of them a remedy to pain.
For many there is deep grief – worsened by isolation, without even the in-person gatherings such as funerals that used to comfort us. Comfort in fellowship facilitates grief recovery, but even that has been suspended.
Over time many people will move on, leaving those who have lost a loved one through physical death or personal crisis in a very lonely space. Shock, anger, denial, bargaining and crawling towards resolve can’t manufacture the hope yearned for, especially when hugs are now potential viral exchanges.
The phrase "We are all in this together" becomes alienating to those who are broken and carrying a disproportionate weight of the pandemic burden. Others who seem to be getting off easier are not even able to express gratitude or understand how their neighbours’ lives have disintegrated.
To whom can we turn? Scripture portrays God as a comfort, a shep-herd, but in times like these a delay in His comfort makes the universe seem cold. Yet, by faith we can wait on the God of all comfort to find us in our grief – and God often uses other humans to do this.
God’s promise is that those who mourn will be comforted, and those who have mourned will know better how to comfort.
The Gospels, epistles and psalms significantly showcase the God of comfort. He will not forsake us in our grief. He brings tender mercies and grace through the hands and feet of those who have also suffered.
God brings tender mercies and grace through the hands and feet of those who have also suffered.
The Church as the Body of Christ has a vital purpose providing immediate help and care, offering pastoral comfort – a ministry of presence during turmoil and despair. We comfort all those who grieve, including children and youth mourning irredeemable losses in their childhoods and worldview, and adults mourning the personal crises of family members across all ages and stages.
The Church must also participate in rebuilding communities by continuing to work across pre-existing and now amplified divisions. Bubbles, barriers, blockades and building new "in" clubs based on health status, race, clan or class elitism cannot be the way forward. How reopening caters to the unearthed social divisions will add insult to injury, taking generations to undo.
Grief abounds when restrictions are seen to be catering to the privileged while justified under that banner of togetherness. The Church at the communal and institutional levels can model reconciliation and restoration in relationships, livelihoods and community – demonstrating engagement without judgment, condemnation or favouritism.
For some, the restrictions remain annoying or little more than a massive financial investment opportunity. For most, it’s an unsolicited journey into grief. The unseen and seen psychological scars are deep. Our purpose is to see and hear the cries of those who have been wounded, to come alongside with staying power, not judgment.
May God’s love empower us all now to face the task of grieving well and reconciling ourselves to one another in His name.
Bruce J. Clemenger is President of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.
Author: Bruce J. Clemenger