For some years now, churches have participated in some kind of “Back to Church Sunday.” As we in Newfoundland and Labrador move toward fewer and fewer restrictions and more people being vaccinated, this year, the opportunity is there to truly celebrate what it means to be back to Church. It’s been a long time coming.
By now, we have all heard and read much about the pandemic, the virus, the variants, the restrictions, the fallout. We know all too well what we have lost. There are the people who have died, those who deal with what is called “long Covid,” who have to get used to the lingering effects of the virus, often worse than the experience of Covid itself. We have lost a year and a half of being able to be with our families and friends, of being able to gather and celebrate the Eucharist as we always did. People have lost loved ones, from COVID-19 or other illnesses when the restrictions made that loss all the more painful—sometimes seeing them only over video, sometimes waiting at home while they died in hospital. People have chosen not to have funerals or regulations have restricted funerals to a small number of people. Either way it’s not what we have come to expect. These are moments we will never get back. In our Queen’s College course on grief and bereavement, we learned that when we have suffered loss, we need to take the time to properly grieve. We need to acknowledge what we have lost and work through all the feelings associated with it.
The pandemic has taught us the value of things we either didn’t notice before or took for granted, like the magic of being able to gather with friends and family, or the power of a hug or the touch of a hand.
So much of the ministry and life of Jesus involved touch: the woman who touched the hem of his garment, how he touched the eyes of the blind man of Bethsaida, the anointing of Jesus with costly ointment. Touch is able to communicate so much—love, care, compassion, empathy. Yet for the duration of this pandemic, touch was also a way of spreading the disease, and touch was taboo. For the most part, we have learned to deal with that. But sometimes, you just have to give someone a hug. You just have to hold someone’s hand or put your hand on their shoulder. The fortunate part is that we live in Newfoundland and Labrador which means that it’s a calculated risk to touch someone. So many in our country and our world can’t even risk that.
Yes, we will celebrate being together, being able to shake hands and share the peace when we can finally do so safely and without restrictions. But we must not forget to acknowledge and mourn what we have lost. That is where we receive the grace of God who knows us, loves us and hurts with us.