“So many dead bodies! They are thrown everywhere!”
– Amos the Prophet
I read the Detroit News every day. I feel it is part of my preparation for ministry. A minister of the gospel needs to understand the times in which he lives. He needs to know the issues of the day, the movements of men’s thinking, how the world works, and current events. I cannot tell you the number of sermon illustrations, blog ideas, and devotional thoughts that have been prompted or underscored by something I read in the newspaper. When Israel (10 northern tribes) came to recognize David as King over both Israel (those remaining loyal to King Saul’s family) and Judah (those loyal to David) we read that the tribe of Issachar sent men of valor as representatives. They were described as “… men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Ch. 12:32). A minister of the gospel owes it to his people to be socially, financially, and philosophically aware of the times in which he lives. I read from every section of the paper if not every article. I read opinion and editorial pieces. I read letters to the editor. I read the entertainment section. I read (of course) the sports section. I also read the obituary section.
Now, as stereotypical as it is to laugh at the “old guy” reading the obituaries, looking for his friends, I find it nonetheless revealing. Most obituaries are of the garden variety. Some, however, are well written articles that are a synopsis of a long life in a short space. That takes real writing “chops” in my opinion. Anyone can say something using unlimited words. Wordsmiths are able to say something meaningful in a condensed way. When John Keats wanted to encapsulate the idea that there are things of such intrinsic beauty that they lend themselves to eternal joy, he struggled with the words for hours. He worked on various iterations of verbalizing that sentiment, but nothing struck him until he hit upon the now famous, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever”. Now, obviously, I’m no Keats. I use a lot of words! My congregation surely feels that.
But all obituaries are revealing. For instance, I have noticed that the vast majority of those having a funeral at their place of worship are Catholic. I have also noticed that only rarely do Jewish people relate the age of the deceased. Most times, those I guess to be genuine believers can be identified by something in the obituary. But I was not ready to see what I saw in Sunday’s obituary section.
Usually, during weekdays, there might be listed anywhere from 5-15 deaths announced (sometimes more). Monday is always the lowest total. Sunday is the largest. I assume it is because Sunday is the largest circulation of the week and if the idea is to inform as many people as possible of the deceased’s passing, Sunday would be the day to have it placed. On the obit page, there is always a little box in which, in alphabetical order, the deceased are listed. In this box will be name, age of death (if given), place of residence, date of death, and the name of the establishment making the arrangements. On Sunday, this list is always the longest. But not this long.
This Sunday an entire page of the news paper was needed to list the dead. I counted 120 names on that list; a list that on a normal Sunday might contain 30 names. And mind you, this was not the list of all who died in our region; only those who placed obituary notices. Behind those names stand countless others impacted by the loss of these loved ones. So many!
I have never been moved about the plight of others like I have during this pandemic. I read an article in the News this week about conditions in India in which the poor are trying to cope with the virus. One in particular lived with his family of five in a space about 9’ x 5’. He could no longer work at his menial job making about $2.50 a day. Their total reserves amounted to $13. Their squalid conditions mirror countless tens of thousands. They have little hope of medical remediation if they get sick. I am moved by the thought of what is going to happen in Africa when the virus descends in full force. I am moved by the fact that our African-American community is bearing the unequal brunt of this terrible disease. I have never, in my recollection, been moved to tears in my prayers for people I do not know and whose plight I can only imagine. So many!
But it is to Amos I return for solace. In the midst of Israel’s prophesied doom Amos holds out hope. He says, “In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old” (Amos 9:11). The booth of David is the house of David, to whom was promised the coming Messiah King who, as the ensuing years would show, was Jesus of Nazareth.
In this plague, in this pandemic that sweeps over the land like a swarm of locusts, the hope is Jesus Christ. I find myself praying that God would spare the lives of as many as he will, to the end that they would have a further chance at life and that further chance would lead them to Christ. I pray each day that the lives of believers would be impacted by the love of Christ for them, and for others who do not yet know him. I am impressed by the fact that in all God’s prophetic messages of doom, he always…always extends hope of repentance, renewal, and life in Jesus Christ.
In this time, when so many are dying there is hope of life. The hope is not just for physical life, but eternal life for those who would turn to the Author of life, Jesus Christ. May this pandemic cause many to flee to Him.