Workers wearing personal protective equipment bury bodies in a trench on Hart Island on April 9, 2020, in the Bronx borough of New York. The strip of land in Long Island Sound has long served as the city’s potter’s field. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Lament: A day to mourn

(RNS) — Lament
[luh-ment]

verb:
to feel, show, or express grief, sorrow, or regret
to mourn deeply

noun:
a crying out in grief: wailing

As we pass the horrifying milestone of 100,000 American deaths to the coronavirus, we’re using the hashtag #Lament100k to urge people to pause — to lament. Of course, the sentiment falls short. As a friend said to me, we can’t abbreviate all these lives; we have to try to feel all 100,000 of them.

One hundred thousand people is 500 plane crashes with 200 passengers on board each one (there have only been 33 airplane crashes with 200 or more fatalities in world history), 33 times the number of deaths on 9/11, two sold-out baseball stadiums, 25 filled National Cathedrals, nearly the number of U.S. soldiers killed in World War I and almost 15 times the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. If a COVID-19 memorial were built today and no one else in the U.S. died from the virus, it would need to be almost twice the length of the Vietnam War Memorial wall to fit the names of all those our nation has lost.

One hundred thousand neighbors, friends and family — grandfathers and grandmothers, fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, even children — are now all dead from COVID-19.

It is a marker we must not pass by quickly or easily. We must stop. We must weep. We must mourn. We must honor. And we must lament, which is to feel and bear great grief and sorrow, and reflect upon it.

To pray for the healing of the nation is to go even deeper than our horrible sickness; we must also see the national brokenness and signs of hope the virus continues to reveal. Our suffering has been painfully racially disproportionate, but our healing must be in unison. To lament means more than weeping and mourning; it also includes regret — to ask why this happened, to understand that it didn’t have to be this way, that we could have been better, smarter, fairer, more compassionate and just.


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As we mark the death of 100,000 people in the U.S. from COVID-19, an unprecedented group of 100 national faith leaders — from Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions, representing major denominations, national faith-based organizations, local congregations, and millions of people of faith across the country — is acting together. We have decided to mourn the dead and pray for healing in our respective worship services on May 29, 30 and 31. And together, we look to federal, state and local elected officials to observe Monday (June 1) as a National Day of Mourning and Lament, a time marked by moments of silence, lowering of flags, interfaith vigils and prayers, ringing of bells, and civic memorials.

This unity across our faith lines and differences within our own traditions has been amazing to see and blessed to experience. To come together in our churches, to reach out to our Jewish and Muslim friends and to appeal to our elected officials with a national hunger for a day of mourning and lament has been a deep encouragement and sign of hope for me.

Alexis Williams, the widow of Bishop Carl Williams Jr., wears a mask with their picture on it during his funeral at the Institutional International Ministries church in the Brooklyn borough of New York on May 21, 2020. Carl Williams Jr. was the emeritus pastor of the Institutional International Ministries, a congregation started by his father, Carl Williams Sr. The congregation and Williams Jr. are more widely known for their gospel group, the Institutional Radio Choir. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

It’s also been a blessing to see the U.S. Conference of Mayors join us in these efforts, to use the opportunity to strengthen and grow connections with their local interfaith groups. The national, bipartisan mayors conference joined us in announcing today:

This call is being supported by the U.S. Conference of Mayors who represent over 1,400 mayors across the country. Mayors lead on the front line of the COVID-19 response effort and continue to model critical local leadership amid this difficult time. Together, interfaith leaders and mayors across the nation will seek to transcend our divisions and call us to lament, mourn, and honor the dead; acknowledge the unequal suffering; pray together for the healing of the nation; and recommit ourselves to the difficult work ahead.

And the National Governors Association is inviting governors to take part.

The National Day of Mourning and Lament will follow a weekend of Muslim, Jewish and Christian services (including Protestant, Catholic, evangelical, African American, Hispanic, Asian American and Native American), all united in a time of lament and mourning for the dead. The vocation of remembering and honoring the dead transcends politics and unites us across lines of religion.

We at Sojourners, in addition to many other churches and faith-based organizations from all over the country, are calling for two things:

  1. Ask your pastors and congregations to join in this weekend’s unprecedented show of unity, as mosques, synagogues and churches acknowledge this grim milestone with a time for lament and mourning — in whatever ways are best and most appropriate in your tradition.
  2. Call on your elected officials — mayors, governors and members of Congress — to acknowledge Monday, June 1, as a National Day of Mourning and Lament with interfaith clergy. Please invite your pastors and local faith-based leaders to help plan and join in with those interfaith services.

For us Christians, joining in these services on the day following Pentecost Sunday, as we welcome the Holy Spirit into our midst, could be a powerful moment to take our faith to the streets.


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The following is not a statement to sign, but rather a call to make, share and use together — crafted by 100+ diverse faith leaders — which says, in part:

We will ask God to help heal our land with a moment of mourning and honoring those many who have died, often without their loved ones around them. We come together both to weep and to rejoice for those lives which have been lost. We shall mourn the loss of so many Americans, many known only to families and friends, coworkers and neighbors. We will mourn family members and friends whom we loved; worked and worshiped with; ate, played, and prayed with; important members of our communities, some who were on the front lines of caring for and serving others; and those we passed on the street with a smile and nod. By God’s grace, we will mourn with families who have not been able to memorialize, mourn, or properly bury their COVID dead.

Our lament will also honor hard truths we have learned during this pandemic: Our suffering has been unequal, elders have been vulnerable and alone, black and brown neighbors have borne disproportionately both the brunt of sickness and death and the front lines labor of fighting this disease. Native communities, our land’s original caretakers, have been particularly hard hit — as they have been so many times in the past. Asian Americans have been targeted by hateful words and actions. Our prayers for the healing of the nation must acknowledge the brokenness of our democracy and rededicate ourselves to repair the injustices this pandemic has revealed, even as work for the healing of those who are afflicted with the virus.

… This momentous and tragic 100,000 marker will not be an empty data point on death’s grim graph; rather we will remember those whom we loved and pray for both healing and hope — for our nation and the world. As a people we have borne this pandemic’s cost in the lives of our loved ones; as a nation we shall honor and mourn them together.

As faith leaders we must help to lead our congregations, communities, and country in this time of grief and lament in a way that will lead us forward more united as a country to address the very real challenges we face ahead. And that we must do together.

Jim Wallis. Courtesy photo

(The Rev. Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners, and author, most recently, of “Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus.” Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)