As we continue to deal with all the consequences of COVID-19 and strive to prevent it from infecting us with a possible second wave, the disease is still claiming too many lives throughout the world.
Boris Johnson’s announcement to the nation in March that ‘many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time’ must have created the same chill deep within the hearts of the people as did Neville Chamberlain’s words in his radio broadcast in 1939 when he declared that ‘this country is at war with Germany’, such was the gravity of the situation. The prime minister’s stark warning was criticised for its brutality yet, within a very short time, his words proved to be correct.
What couldn’t have been predicted, however, was the ensuing camaraderie as people across the nation pulled together for the common good with countless acts of generosity and selflessness. Many brave, dedicated individuals have lost their lives to the very disease that they attempted to alleviate in their own patients, or while providing a service to others in the community. To cite John 15:13: ‘Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.’ The determination, inventiveness and resourcefulness of our nation is heroic, consistent and evolving day and night.
While many people have recovered from the disease, with the lives it has claimed there is the additional burden for bereaved families of not being able to be present to comfort and say goodbye to loved ones or to provide the ‘send-off’ which would have followed in normal circumstances. Contrary to the opening lines of a frequently quoted prayer, ‘Death is nothing at all’, death really is devastating. Those words seem to shrug it off as if it were hardly more than an inconvenient interruption to the daily routine when, in fact, death is something which turns life upside down, inside out and back to front.
To describe death as ‘nothing at all’ stretches piety to its limits. It is truly a massive event for those who are left behind. Our Christian belief in life after death does not spare us the searing agony of loss, but our faith gives us hope, which, in turn, gives our lives some balance and helps us to find reason where there perhaps may not otherwise be. Of course, we too would like Jesus to return our loved ones to us from the dead, as he did for his dear friend Lazarus, but it’s not going to happen.
That person has moved from the here and now of this world into the timelessness of eternity. As Christians, we trust that, enfolded by our prayers, the one we love has in reality stepped across the divide between the ups and downs of this life, into the life and happiness with our beautiful God which is beyond our imagining. Being a Christian does not exclude us from fear, however, or necessarily lessen the gut-wrenching terror which may confront us. It does not create an automatic immunity from the very real worries about pain, illness, family and financial problems, or concerns relating to this monstrous global pandemic, conflict or environmental disasters.
Being a Christian ‘connects’ us to the One who is there for us no matter how seemingly hopeless or desperate the situation, who will stand right inside our fear and breathe His peace into our souls. And, while we cannot escape the suffering which accompanies bereavement, God will lead us through it and we can be certain that the dead are only as far away as God, who is so very close.