My father passed away suddenly when I was fifteen, and well I remember the stunned disbelief of family and friends at the loss of a vibrant, gifted husband and dad. In my memory, the funeral was surreal and muted; the still, pale figure in the coffin could not be the man I knew. My grandmother, grieving, bent over to kiss his cheek and murmur, “Good bye, dear”. Even all these years later, my eyes fill with tears with the feelings of loss, for he left a void space in our family that nothing could ever fill. And yet, our family, his co-workers, neighbours and friends pulled together, the feelings of helplessness and sorrow carried on all our shoulders.
What of the terrible distance now between us and the ones who have died of the virus? What of the victims of the mass shootings in Nova Scotia, Canada, and the Canadian military personnel lost in the helicopter accident over the Ionian Sea? What of the similar happenings all over the world? The pandemic has forced the grieving apart, for gatherings at funerals are prohibited, and the presence of family to comfort and stand together is no longer there to buffer the waves of sadness and loss. And what of our elderly parents in care facilities, separated by windows, masks and gloves from their loved ones? How do we bear witness to the tragedies, the loneliness, and to the kindness of caregivers who hold their hands when we cannot?
I am reminded of the cloud of witness in Hebrews: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2a ESV) This great cloud of faithful men and women have gone before us and we, though in sorrow, are witness to their faith and endurance in everything they have experienced and lived through. Now we too run the race with endurance and commitment, being urged to be steady and not to turn aside from the course. Our great example is Jesus Himself, who is with us as the race starts, continues, and at life’s ending.
Though we ache for those who are devastated in our country and abroad, and support them with our words and prayers, the world also watches our own faith and conduct. We train our eyes on Jesus, not the cloud of witnesses or the sins that cling so closely, but to Him who gives us joy, life, encouragement and guidance. In our journey on this good earth, “I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6 ESV)