After my husband died, it was difficult to go back to church. As I sat in the sanctuary, my shoulders ached to have his arm gently resting on the pew behind me. Though I still sat stuffed into a row with my four children, Rob’s absence in the seat beside us couldn’t be denied. And the hymns about trusting God through suffering or longing for heaven? I couldn’t choke the words out. Their truths spoke directly to my vulnerability and deep, intimate pain. Most times, I’d simply stand and cry. Deep in my acute grief, Sunday mornings exhausted me.
I’ll be honest. When pandemic restrictions shifted church worship online, I breathed a sigh of relief. No more scrambling as a solo parent to get my kids ready for Sunday mornings. No more awkward, well-meaning small talk after services when I didn’t know what to say. No more weeping through hymns and sniffling through prayers. I could grieve and worship in the privacy of my own home—alone but not alone because I knew my church neighbors were tuning in from their couches, too.
It might come as a surprise, then, that when in-person worship began again I registered my family for services right away. While online worship had provided needed respite for my broken heart, I longed to belong again in a physical way. Losing your spouse isn’t just an emotional loss but a physical one, too. I needed bodies again. I needed other voices to carry the tune when my faltering one couldn’t. As my grief shifted, I knew I needed in-person worship again.
While online worship had provided needed respite for my broken heart, I longed to belong again in a physical way.
I’ll never forget that first Sunday we arrived for worship after 18 months away. Adhering to state recommendations, folks sat masked in our sanctuary—only 50 people in a space built for three or four times that size. We’d committed to not hugging or shaking hands as a gesture of kindness to the most vulnerable among us; and, at the time, there was no singing.
We may have met under strange arrangements; but, as a grieving person, I’ve never felt so welcome in a service before. For the first time, we’d all arrived admittedly war-torn and wounded—weary healthcare workers and beleaguered teachers, worried small-business owners and concerned retirees. Masked and six feet apart, all of the pretense was gone. We had gathered the best we could because we knew that we needed bodies again. We needed the body of Christ again. This desperation deeply resonated with me. I knew the loneliness of absence and the longing for belonging. The bodies in the pews beside me confirmed it; they knew it too.
It has been almost a year since our family returned to in-person worship. I’ll admit that I’ve been tempted on some Sunday mornings to just roll over and watch the livestream from the comfort of my bed. There’s an easy isolation that still appeals to me, especially when grief waves break over me.
But, then, I remember the bodies—the friendly elbow bumps, the reassuring eyes that meet mine when they fill with tears, the wiggly children who excitedly gather on their “sit spots” six feet apart when I give the children’s message. After losing the body of the one I loved most, I know the value of bodies better now. So, I roll out of bed. I summon my kids to get up; we’re going to church. If, as Teresa of Avila said, “Christ has no body now but yours,” I know that in showing up to church in person, I’m sure to meet the one body I need most. When I slip into the pew, Jesus will be there, too.