The following was written in a letter to our congregation. I’ve changed the name of the deceased.
The Bible, in both Old and New Testaments, refers often to the experience of “exile.” It was what the Israelites experienced in the 6th century BC, banished from their homeland and sent to Babylon. It’s also what Paul and Peter call the experience of Christians dispersed from Jerusalem, awaiting the coming of Christ. To this day, to be in exile, faithfully awaiting the world re-created in Christ’s image, is what it means to be Christian.
In this pandemic, the Christian’s sensation of exile is more pronounced, isn’t it? We’re prevented from or normal way of life and our normal customs as a gathered people. We are having to fast from in-person worship, from communion, from baptisms, and even from funerals.
Tomorrow at 2pm I will conduct a small, socially distanced, graveside funeral service for one of our church family. Because of the pandemic, I will conduct the service while wearing a mask, as will the limited family members invited to the service. It will be strange, but we have faith that God will be with us.
I promise that we will have a service for Name once we can gather safely, but I do not know when that will be. For now, not being able to grieve properly as a church, together with the Body of Christ, is painful. I know many of you wish terribly that you could be at Name’s service, or that we could have some gathering of our own to honor her life and God’s life in the midst of her’s. That will not be possible, and I know that that is heartbreaking.
In all likelihood, this is not the only church family death we will experience while in this experience of exile. In each case, again, I promise we will have funeral services for the deceased once we can gather safely. In the meantime, though, I want to offer you some ideas for how we can grieve together, and proclaim the promise of the Resurrection even while in this peculiar exile.
The attached document is a liturgy for individuals or groups (connected virtually) to be used when an in-person funeral is not possible, or will be delayed. Consider using it and sharing it with others.
Whether you use this liturgy or simply offer a prayer for the deceased and those who mourn them at some point, my prayers and my love for you continue in Christ.