From where I’m sitting I see a few remaining puddles on the road. With my computer turned on and open to Facebook I sit and wait. I check the time, a few minutes before 1 pm. I scroll mindlessly to pass the minutes. My hands need to keep busy, my mind avoiding the feelings that want to emerge. Finally, after many times refreshing my browser I see the church sanctuary. To the left a group of people sit close together wearing a variety of shades of black, a casket draped with the white pall stands in the center of the aisle.
The pastor at the lectern offers words from the funeral liturgy I’ve heard before, words I’ve spoken:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the source of all mercy and the God of all consolation, who comforts us in all our sorrows so that we can comfort others in their sorrows with the consolation we ourselves have received from God. (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 279)
I’ve lost track of how many days my family and I have been staying at home since the pandemic swept the United States. All I know is that life is vastly different now.
Funerals, for one, are not the same.
In the top left hand side of the video on my screen, I see a picture of an eye and the number 364. From my desk at home that number tells me I am not alone in watching the funeral. Three hundred sixty four different households are also honoring the life of the deceased.
For a moment I wonder where everyone is sitting, perhaps in cars, or at their kitchen table, on the couch, or in their beds. Three hundred sixty four people bearing witness in a way that transcends place and connects us to one another and the family who is grieving. Thanks to the screen in front of me, I am able to attend the funeral of a friend who died during the pandemic. Thanks to technology I can grieve apart, yet together. I am not alone.
My eyes are drawn not to the people in church but to the light fixtures hanging above them. They seem especially bright from the view on my computer. Or perhaps, it’s just the glow of my screen. Either way, it’s the light that draws me. I picture the light from over 300 hundred other screens and devices like a string of lights connecting us all together.
Holy Spirit, author and giver of life, the comforter of all who sorrow, our sure confidence and everlasting hope, we worship you.
Some days I have a running list in my head of all the things I’ve lost during the pandemic, or at least a list of things that I miss. My daughter’s preschool graduation didn’t happen, nor any final classes with her friends in person. A conference I had planned on attending for the last two years was cancelled. Visits from family postponed. Playdates, meals out at restaurants, playing at the park all ended abruptly. Worship moved from in person to online.
I miss the safety I felt going to the grocery store or chatting with friends at the park. I miss the freedom to come and go without endless worry, handwashing, and facemasks. I lament not being able to hug and hold close my friends grieving the loss of their loved one.
But then I remember the story told by my grieving friends. A day after their family member died the lights of the baseball field in their town were illuminated. Throughout the evening, people were drawn to the light and gathered to honor and remember the life of their friend. I didn’t personally see the light from this baseball field, but I can picture it clearly, as if the light from the field stretched all the way to my home.
What I did see, though, was the light that dawned after a spring shower a few evenings after my friend died. Again, seated at my desk in the office I plugged away at my work. When I needed a book from the shelf behind me I looked up for the first time seeing a brilliant orange sunset, almost as if the sky was on fire. I quickly walked out my door where my eyes were drawn to the light of a double rainbow.
Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet streaked across the evening sky. A few birds chirped amidst the otherwise stillness of the day’s ending. Could this be what binds us together when we’re apart? Could this light draw us together? Can we be apart, yet together?
I hope so. Some days more than others, I believe so.
But on the days I need to be reminded that I’m not alone in my fear, worry, and grief, on the days where death’s sting feels stronger, on the days that meld into one another, I look to the light drawing me forward, basking me in its presence.
The Lord bless us and keep us.
The Lord’s face shine on us with grace and mercy.
The Lord look upon us with favor and give us peace.
Kimberly Knowle-Zeller is an ordained ELCA pastor, mother of two, and spouse of an ELCA pastor. She lives with her family in Cole Camp, MO. You can read more at her website, follow her work on Facebook, or sign up for her monthly newsletter.