Today we pause to mark the sobering statistic that half a million people have died in the last year from COVID-19 in the U.S. alone: over 1/5 of all the world’s deaths.

Behind each number is a face, and a family.  Many of the victims died alone, unable to see their loved ones, who were robbed of the chance to say goodbye, or even to have a funeral.  By now, almost everyone knows someone who succumbed to the disease.  The globe has felt a ripple effect of sadness.  We are all in mourning together.

It’s a hard number to put into perspective.  At one point, we were shocked to learn that as many people had died from COVID-19 as had died in 9/11: 2977.  Then we surpassed the total killed in WWII.  Then COVID became the leading cause of death in America.  After that, we stopped being shocked; we were simply numbed.  675,000 Americans died in the 1918 pandemic; it’s possible we’ll reach that total.  We are still losing about a thousand a day.  But after a hundred years, we should have learned our lessons; we should have done better than this.

One of the saddest aspects of the crisis is that the number did not have to be this high.  Our country was hit the hardest, but much of this was due to humans, not to God or fate.  Imagine if we learned that half a million Americans had been eaten by sharks in the last year, that 50 times that number had been bitten, and that most of the sharks were still out there.  Would we still go swimming?  Of course not.  Yet people still refuse to wear masks.

As we continue our journey through Lent, let us remember those who are no longer with us, and whose legacies remain: those who gave us joy, company, love and laughter.  By God’s grace, we hope to see them again someday.

But may we also repent of our unwillingness as a society to protect each other, especially the most vulnerable among us: the elderly, the ill, and people of color.  We are called by our faith and our very humanity to do better ~ to use the phrase uttered after the Holocaust, never again.