By Pastor Jeff Fox-Kline
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
We read this in church yesterday. Not just in worship, but in a memorial service. We’ll be reading it in church this Thursday at another memorial service. I’m sure I’ll be reading it again soon at yet another memorial service.
But I hadn’t read it much in 2020. No memorial services meant that I didn’t read this Psalm during the height of the pandemic. But now that we’re reading it again, we’re in "catch up" mode from all that we missed during the pandemic.
People who died in 2020 were robbed of the traditional ways of memorializing their lives, of having the community come together to celebrate who they were. And that breaks my heart.
And now that we’ve got vaccines available, and the worst of the pandemic is (hopefully) in the rearview, we can return to the rhythms of grief that have been honed through centuries of traditions.
I’m so thankful for that. I am thankful on behalf of those we’ve lost over the past year (and we’ve lost so many). But I’m most thankful on behalf of those families who needed the outlet, but were kept from it.
One of the most incredible things about being back in person for worship has been seeing folks who missed each other (or didn’t realize they missed each other) come together and remember the relationships that were put on pause as they hunkered down and tried their best to stay safe.
This is even more so for memorial services. Not only are these people seeing each other for the first time (for many of them), but they are doing so in celebration of someone they won’t see any longer here on earth. The recognition of the empty seat drives home the poignancy of these present relationships. Grief should not happen in a vacuum. Grief delayed does not simply dissipate. Communal grief, burdens shared, tears held in common. It is a tragic catharsis that we have to catch up to the reality of what we endured.
It’s an honor to bear witness to the community rejoining for the purpose of celebrating loved ones and remembering the good news Jesus promises. It’s an honor to be with families as they dive back into the grief of the last year, and find that they are able to share the grief together.
It is an honor to read Psalm 23 with them again. Together.
Pastor Jeff Fox-Kline