While those with health conditions and comorbidities have decided that death is a part of life since the Fall and they have to deal with it, I wonder if it cannot be said that others are still trying to hide from death or outlive the threat because they don't want to deal with it. It is easier to deal with those who know death is real than to minister to those who are trying to hide from it and unsure about how much to risk it. Those who deal with their own mortality are ripe for the Gospel, for the promise of life with the presence of God and death that is but a gate and door to everlasting life. They yearn for the resurrection of the dead, for the renewal of their old bodies like unto Jesus' own glorious body, and for the promise that this brief life is neither the sum total or even a glint of the eternal which Christ Himself has promised. On the other hand, those who are trying to hide from death or reduce the risk of it need more than comfort. They need to hear the hard truth that death is real -- or else Christ's life will not be real to them.
It sounds downright cruel but those who are either trying to hide from death or fear risking death to be together with God's people around the Word and Table of the Lord may not need comfort at all. What they may need more than consolation is the blunt truth that death is real, that it is no friend, that there is no place to hide from it, and that only Christ has something to give to a people who live in darkness of fear and in the shadow of death. As pastors, we don't want to say this to our people -- it goes against our desire to be loved but it is the most loving thing we can say to them. They cannot hide from death but in order to live the life God gives them here they must confront death in Christ. Either that or they will live in hiding until death cannot be hidden anymore.
Being away from the assembly, being absent from the Lord's Word preached and His Holy Supper administered, and being captive to fear is bound to weaken the faith. Its first sign is that we become accustomed to not getting up and dressed and headed to Church on Sunday morning. The loss of a good habit is a real loss. The second sign is that we don't miss it -- our hearts no longer hunger for our life together around the Word and Table of the Lord and we are content either with digital connections or no connections to the Church at all. The last sign is that we begin to wonder why we ever went in the first place -- the temptation to doubt and fear effectively kills the faith and we surrender our hope to the reality we face or to an imaginary reality in which sin, guilt, and death no longer live.
The great challenge for the Pastor is to know what to say to which people. And perhaps to know how to contact those who have checked out of the Church on Sunday morning. I know these are things that trouble my soul and I suspect that they trouble the souls of many pastors. We pray for the wisdom and discernment of the Spirit that we may speak the right Word at the right time to the right person -- even when that may not be received well. Otherwise, why are we pastors at all?????