Jason Wright: Empty Chairs at Empty Tables


Why do I love this photo?

They're just long tables in simple rows. Plain table cloths. Folding chairs.


This is our multi-use chapel in Woodstock, Virginia. In this room we watch and worship. We mingle and make memories. We pray. We preach. We partake of the sacrament.

We have fun, and yes, we have funerals.

On March 14, 2020, we were planning to say goodbye to one of our own in this very room. Darlene Hallman, age 70, was the only member of our Church in her fabulous family. But they were insistent that she wanted to be celebrated not in a funeral home, but in the home of her faith.

Plus, when it's time to comfort those in pain, does it really matter what church they attend?

As everyone now knows and history will teach for generations to come, this was the week the world shut down. Companies closed their doors, nonessential businesses began saying farewell to employees, and the sports and entertainment worlds went dark. Debates over the hows, whys and whens of the response can be saved for another day.

What cannot wait is a deeper understanding that while games and golf tournaments were suspended, as movies and marathons were postponed, families who lost loved ones did not get to press pause on their mourning.

There is no flattening the grief curve.

As Darlene's memorial was postponed, the family’s loss is not impacted by executive orders and daily press briefings. They cannot self-isolate their sadness.

In the celebration that awaits, Darlene will be praised and loved and remembered and honored as a Godly woman with a huge heart and a desire to do good. What family wouldn’t be anxious to remember their wife, mother, and sister that way in God’s house?

Meanwhile, the world is frustrated. Jobs are lost. Thousands have died. Schools are shuttered and the economy is on life-support.

I'm certainly among those impacted. As businesses began to power down, so did my self-employed world. Writing gigs and speaking engagements were canceled, projects in development were put on pause, and potential business partners rightfully now have concerns much bigger than mine.

Clearly, I’m as guilty as anyone. While I moan and groan about my own family challenges, another family is short one person at the dinner table.

So, why do I love this photo? Because it reminds me of what matters most.

Leaders of the congregation made the decision to leave the chapel set up for Darlene. Whenever we’re back, we’re committed that her celebration will be the first meeting in this sacred space. Our service for her is also a service to her family. Isn't that what God would want?

May we remember that while all of us are inconvenienced, some of us are permanently impacted by this global season.

And may we also remember that when we do gather again, there might be a few more empty hearts and a few more empty chairs.

Let’s fill them both.


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