In a sermon entitled, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” poet-priest John Donne asserts that we are all connected to one another because we all live together in community. He summed up his point of view in the immortal phrase, “No man is an island.” He drives the point home by saying that the church bell rings upon the death of a member of the community, prompting folks to ask, “Who died?” Instead, Donne notes, the death of anyone is a loss to us all. We are all part of the community, and a little of each of us also is lost.
Here’s how he famously put it:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind;
And therefore never send to know
For whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
Next Tuesday at 5:30PM (January 15) President-elect Biden will lead a memorial to remember and honor lives lost to COVID-19, with church bells solemnly tolling across the country. We will be ringing our bell at that time, in concert with our church neighbors at Irvington Presbyterian and Immaculate Conception. This concerted effort to remember the 380,000 people who have died is, of course, symbolic and, by its very nature, inclusive. Each toll of the bell will act as a reminder to all of us that mourning itself has taken many different forms this past year. I encourage all of us to stop, listen and lament the ongoing toll the pandemic is taking on our neighbors and upon each one of us. I also hope that the tolling of the bells will be a small reminder to all of us that we are vulnerable human beings with an innate capacity for compassion, beauty and love.
May those who have died, rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen.
Gareth Evans serves as the rector of St. Barnabas. He is an inspirational leader who brings significant pastoral experience, a depth of reverence in worship, and a relatable preaching style.