Thursday, February 25, 2021

500,000+ COVID-19 deaths in the United States

‘Strive to infuse life into this season of death

By Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

I remember sitting in a nursing home in Catonsville, Maryland, with my aged Aunt Inez years ago.  Born in 1894 she had seen a great deal in her many years of life, and I was just in my twenties at the time. She shared with me her many memories of years gone by, especially about the “Spanish Flu” of 1918. 

She was about my age at the time and there were no vaccines, no cure, just a call for people to stay in isolation and in prayer. She said that that virus affected in some way every family in the little town of Lansdowne, Maryland, where she taught school. In the spring of the following year they counted their losses and grieved a deep and long grief.

At the time, I thought this was an unbelievable tale of how things were in the “old days.” I never once imagined that one day I could be living during a devastating pandemic.

It has been a long year since we first got the news of this worldwide crisis and began to close down churches for in-person worship. Last March we could hardly have imagined that a year later we would be grieving 500,000 American lives lost to this deadly coronavirus.

Like my Aunt Inez, few if any of us have been spared the knowledge of someone in our lives—family member, friend, colleague, role model, church member—someone who lost a battle to this awful virus.  We share a common grief, and too many of us carry burdens of sorrow and helplessness.

Deep appreciation for ministry, compassion

At this milestone in our tragic tally of lives lost, I want to express my deep appreciation for pastors, laity and churches who have ministered and offered compassion and relief to countless numbers of people in their communities. The Apostle Paul describes well the strength God has given you for the task:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (II Corinthians 1:3-4)

I also call us to care for ourselves in these stressful times, regularly observing the Sabbath and engaging in spiritual, physical and emotional self-care. Rest in the promise that “God will go with you and will never leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6) And also, “Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31).

Strive to infuse life into this season of death. The church is founded on the resurrection of Christ and the sure and certain promise of life abundant and life everlasting. We rely on resilient life that springs from the jaws of death, on joy that comes the morning after, and on hope that burns brightly, even in the midnight hour.

Be hope-givers through the gospel

We are uniquely positioned to be hope-givers in this world through the gospel that we proclaim in Word and deed at this crucial time. Be a “resurrection hope-giver” for someone who is bound by deep grief. Never forget the power of simple words of kindness and acts of compassion.  In addition, do not pass up any chance to give a witness to the hope that is in you and that can inspire others to faith in Christ. 

My Aunt Inez also told me of the revival of religious fervor that happened in her community after the long siege of the pandemic of 1918.  Instead of being buried in inconsolable grief, the community embraced faith that spurred on a wave of community development and prosperity. 

Likewise, our sobering milestone of death can be a springboard to new life as only God can give it. Be a part of the new life that rises from this unique and terrible time in the history of our nation and the world.

I close with a hymn by our contemporary “sweet psalmist,” Rev. Carolyn Gillette

We Grieve 500,000

By Rev. Carolyn Gillette   
(Sung to the tune of “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.” Permission is given for use in our churches.)

We grieve five hundred thousand, yet we can’t understand
We cannot grasp how many have died throughout this land
We cannot see their faces or hear the stories told
Of all the ways they blessed us, the young ones and the old. 

O God, we grieve the struggle of those who died alone
So far from friends and neighbors, from all they’d ever known.
We grieve for precious people who could not say good-bye
We weep for those, now mourning, who sit along and cry 

O God, we grieve for millions who now are unemployed
Who cannot feed their families, whose hope has been destroyed
We grieve that needed workers must worry for their health
While some with lives of privilege stay home and build their wealth

God of love and mercy, we cry to you, “How long?”
In troubled times remind us: You love is ever strong
Now as we grieve the suffering, Lord, show us how to be
A healing, loving presence in each community.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Black History Month
Elijah Pierce: Telling the Story in Wood

Recently the Barnes Foundation of Philadelphia showcased the works of artist Elijah Pierce.  Born in 1892 in Mississippi, this son of freed slaves became a wood carver, barber and preacher. 

He migrated north to Columbus, Ohio, as a youth, where he set up a barber shop and had a woodworking room in the back of the store. There he designed hundreds of masterpieces using wood, cardboard, crepe paper, house paint, aluminum foil, glitter and rhinestones.

The topics of his many creations included Bible stories, nature, popular culture, politics and animals of all kinds.  Threaded through his work was his passion for justice. 

One of his wood pictures included the words “Your life is a book, and every day is a page.”  On the pages of his life, he created scenes of slavery in cotton fields, the horrors of slave auction blocks, and depictions of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Kennedy brothers who had been assassinated.   

Pierce created a work titled “Elijah Escapes the Mob.” It traces his personal experience of being accused of a crime he did not commit and being held in custody.  He gave a visual history of a country filled with injustice and inequality but also one of hope in God. 

Book of Wood depicts Jesus’ life

His most prized work in his extensive collection is the “Book of Wood” a huge wooden “book” with each 2 x 2 square-foot page depicting the life of Jesus (33 painted carvings in all).

Filmmaker Carolyn Allport produced a documentary about Pierce in 1974, 10 years before his death. “He was so genuine about everything he said about faith in God,” she wrote. “But social justice was the core of his message as an artist.” Indeed, the two should always be inseparable.

I honor the life of Elijah Pierce during Black History Month 2021. He used wood, paint and a carving knife to tell important stories.  How about you? Your faith in God should always be a message that is seen by the way you live, by the things you value and support, and by your creative outlets. 

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ and an advocate for social justice should go hand in hand.  Do people see that in you?  May “your life be a book and every day a page” that displays the goodness of God shared among all people. And may you commit to sharing that goodness in your corner of the world.


·       Philadelphia Tribune, September 27, 2020 “Barnes Continues Inclusivity Mission with ‘Elijah Pierce’s America’ Exhibition” by J. Perry

· “Elijah Pierce”  

· “Aimed to do God’s Work in Wood”


·       www.folkstreamsnet/film-detail.php?id=275 “Elijah Pierce: Woodcarver” (1974) Carolyn Allport producer

·       Also watch: “Get a Look at ‘Elijah Pierce's America' at Philadelphia's Barnes Foundation  NBC10 Philadelphia