Empty Chairs at Empty Tables

Jesus said to [Martha], ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.’ (John 11:25-26a, NRSV)

I mentioned in a previous Going the Distance that I do not watch a lot of television. At least I did not before the pandemic. However, I have curtailed most social interactions, so that leaves me with a lot of at-home time.

I gave myself a “gift” when we began working remotely and ordered a monthly subscription to the Broadway Channel. I really miss concerts, live music, and the ability to see shows in person. So, this has been a substitute for not being able to do so. The channel has well known shows like Oklahoma and Chorus Line, but also many shows that I have never seen. It also includes some of my favorites like Billy Elliot and Les Misérables.

Les Misérables is based on a book by Victor Hugo with the same title. One of the characters, Marius, has joined a student revolution to try to improve the quality of life for the poor in France. The revolution is a disaster. School boys prove no match for the French military. Marius is seriously wounded, and his friends are killed.

When Marius is well enough to be up and around again, he returns to the bar where he and his friends planned the revolution. There, he mourns his losses and sings the simple and mournful “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.” The song begins:

“There’s a grief that can’t be spoken.
There’s a pain goes on and on.
Empty chairs at empty tables,
now my friends are dead and gone.”
As we approach the holiday season with Thanksgiving a week from today, as we also watch new COVID-19 infections hitting record highs, I keep thinking about empty chairs at empty tables. The reality is that some chairs will be empty this holiday season due to COVID-19-related deaths. Some chairs will be empty due to decisions to celebrate holidays differently for safety reasons. Some chairs will be empty for the first time for reasons having nothing to do with COVID-19.

A loss is a loss. Grief is grief. An empty chair is an empty chair. It must have been how Martha felt as recounted in the Gospel according to John when her brother Lazarus had died before Jesus could get to him. And when Jesus arrives, she says: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (vs. 21b). But Jesus assures her that Lazarus will rise again. And reminds her that Jesus is the life everlasting.

Perhaps, like me, you need the reminder as you look at empty chairs this holiday season, for whatever reason, that Jesus is life everlasting and nothing can overcome that, not even a global pandemic.

Rev. Dr. Dawson B. Taylor
Senior Minister

Prayer Focus: All who are grieving this holiday season

Prayer: Loving God, help me to remember that you sent Jesus
so that we may have life and have it abundantly. Amen.