OUR FLAG AT HALF STAFF

April 22, 2020

The American flag at Central Church is flying at half-staff. At the beginning of April, the Governor of New Jersey ordered that flags be lowered at all state government facilities in New Jersey because of the deaths of so many due to the coronavirus. Even though we are not a government facility, Central Church usually follows such orders, and in this case, we did it without question. As I write this, New Jersey just experienced its largest death toll from the coronavirus—379 people in one day. I realize that people die every day, but these people likely would not have died yesterday if not for the coronavirus. And so, our flag is still flying, but it is at half-staff.

For while the talk is shifting to “reopening,” before we do that, I think that we need to pause to acknowledge those whom we have lost. We have lost grandparents, veterans who served our country selflessly, health care workers sent to combat a disease without the appropriate equipment, bus drivers and store clerks without the luxury of being able to work from home, family and friends, a Holocaust survivor, a middle school principal—so many precious ones. While we have figured out how to organize car parades to celebrate birthdays and dinner on Zoom to celebrate holidays, we have not figured out how to celebrate together the lives of those who have died. Families and friends have been left to mourn largely on their own. And so our flag flies at half-staff.

And I think that’s where it needs to remain for a while to come. In the rush to “reopen,” it serves as a potent reminder of the unfinished business that we still have to do. Coronavirus is still making people sick, still killing people, and for many, all the talk of “returning to normal” is glib and shallow because their lives will never return to normal, the reassuring voice silenced, the familiar smile vanished. Our flag is flying at half-staff, and that’s where it needs to remain indefinitely, a symbol that we have not forgotten, a witness to the deep wisdom that there is no moving on without remembering all that’s been lost.

–Pastor Don Steele