Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from
your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of
more value than many sparrows.
--Matthew 10: 29-31 NRSV
Most days I fail to keep up with the number of who has died from COVID-19 in the United States. Today, for some reason, I checked the total. My Google search said as of today, September 16, 196,000 people have died. Each one is a loss. Each one was created and loved by God. Each one leaves a family in mourning.
Maybe it was the recent anniversary of 9-11 and the collective mourning we shared as a nation that got me thinking about the number who have died from COVID-19. 2,977 people died on September 11, 2001. 65 times that number have died from COVID-19, yet there has been no collective mourning for the COVID-19, no ringing of bells, no solemn public services. It remains a number some of our leaders refuse to even acknowledge.
I don’t want to be misunderstood as if I am somehow minimizing the crimes of September 11 and the victims of those terrorist attacks. Far from it. I served in metro NYC immediately following the attacks in 2001 and came to know well widows and children of men who died in the World Trade Center. I know the depths of their pain, and I know our nation’s collective pain. I merely use it as a comparison to show how badly I believe our culture needs to mourn our dead.
The comparison only goes so far. 9-11 gave us a shared enemy to hate and someone clear to blame. COVID-19 remains mysterious in its causes and the bungling of the response is multi-faceted. 9-11 happened all at once on live television, but COVID-19 happens at a daily, unending pace that only frontline medical workers witness. Perhaps the true horror of this disease is how so many people must die alone separated from loved ones. If they are fortunate, a kind nurse holds up a phone to Zoom or Facetime with family. For most of us, the terrible cost of this pandemic remains out of sight and therefore out of mind.
I keep wondering if we had a way to collectively mourn the COVID-19 dead then would we stop wasting our breath over the need for masks or other precautionary measures. The human brain just can’t comprehend large numbers of casualties. We literally remain numb to them. Yet, I believe if each life is sacred to God and hopefully to their loved ones, then we pay a collective cost by not mourning, lamenting, grieving these lives lost. Our common humanity is lessened by our inability and unwillingness to acknowledge this many deaths.
Jesus taught that God values each human being. God knows the name and life of each person who has died. God knows their worth. In the same way, God knows you and me. God knows the worth of our lives too.
I don’t have the power to call our nation to collectively mourn, but I can offer you dear readers a chance to stop, mourn and acknowledge the dead within our midst. I found the following prayer by Jewish writer Alden Solovy, which was shared on the Sojourners web site. It expresses what I feel all of us need to express to God as we continue to walk through this pandemic. I invite you to pause, read it silently or out loud, and make it your prayer.
God of consolation,
Surely you count in heaven,
Just as we count here on earth,
In shock and in sorrow,
The souls sent back to You,
The dead from the COVID pandemic,
As the ones become tens,
The tens become hundreds,
The hundreds become thousands,
The thousands become ten-thousands
And then hundred-thousands,
Each soul, a heartbreak,
Each soul, a life denied.
God of wisdom,
Surely in the halls of divine justice
You are assembling the courts,
Calling witnesses to testify,
The compassion of some
And the callousness of others
As we’ve struggled to cope.
The souls taken too soon,
Whose funerals were lonely,
Who didn’t need to die,
Who died alone,
Will tell their stories
When You judge
And our failures
In these hours of need.
God of healing, an end to this pandemic,
And all illness and disease.
Bless those who stand in service to humanity.
Bless those who grieve.
Bless the dead,
So that their souls are bound up in the bond of life eternal.
And grant those still afflicted
With disease or trauma
A completed and lasting healing,
Until suffering ceases,
And we can stop counting the dead,
In heaven And on earth.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
6601 Northwest 72nd Street, Kansas City, MO 64151 | 816-741-1851