On a Thursday afternoon in March I am sitting in my recliner with the dog on my lap. It is not vacation. It is not my day off. It’s weird and unsettling. I’m home like many others because we are in the middle of a pandemic. In the U.S. we are watching as some other countries are beginning to recover and others are watching as the death count rises. We are watching and waiting and some are still disbelieving. We should be following the example of countries like Spain who are on full lockdown. Yes, the toll on the economy will be significant, but how much worse are we making it by not physically distancing ourselves from one another?
There’s the denial. Then there is something far worse. There are faith leaders who still gathered for worship in high risk areas with people at significant risk for carrying and/or contracting COVID-19. The message from these (usually very conservative Christian) preachers was that God would save them from the virus. While they were in the house of God, and if they had faith enough, they would be fine. Everyone else who is fearful and taking precautions and wanting to flatten the curve… well, we are faithless fools. Of course, this messaging is false and dangerous. More to the point, it isn’t exactly Biblical, either.
Let’s take the story of the man who was born blind, for example. Here was a man, blind from birth. The question the disciples posed to Jesus about the cause of the man’s blindness are still relevant today. Who sinned – the man or his parents? It’s very much like whose sin caused COVID-19 and this pandemic – people in China, people in Europe, people in North America, people in general, or scientists, or politicians? Jesus’ answer to his disciples was likely helpful to them; neither the man’s nor his parents’ sins caused his blindness. Jesus goes on to say that the man was born blind so that God’s glory could be shown in him. Okay. Here’s were it gets a bit challenging for modern scripture readers.
I say that this statement is descriptive rather prescriptive. In the ancient world, the primary way of understanding the events of the world – personal and communal – was to say that God was responsible for all the things. If a person was born blind, then God had a reason for it. Of course, the most common understanding of any kind of disability was that it was punishment for sin, the person’s or their parents’. From this perspective, when Jesus told the disciples that the man was born blind so God could reveal God’s glory in the man, it sounds prescriptive, foreordained, if you will. However, from a modern point of view in which we have explanations for things happening beyond God making them happen, this story is descriptive. It describes what actually happened (in the story or in reality matters very little). In other words, because the man was born blind, Jesus’ power to heal could be revealed through him. No punishment of any kind in this understanding.
Now we come to COVID-19. It’s a virus, a scary, highly contagious, lethal for many virus. Viruses, as we know, are part of human existence. I am not a scientist so I cannot explain how or why the exist, but we know that they do. The common cold has been around as long as human beings have. Influenza is a virus that mutates constantly. The coronavirus has been around a long time. This particular version of it is new. No virus comes from God. No human sin caused it to become as lethal as it is. However, this isn’t to say that God’s power/presence/glory/healing/love won’t be revealed in the midst of this. It is a question of who will bear witness to what God is doing even now.
We can be like the Temple Authorities and refuse to believe that God is at work in the world in new and unexpected ways and, thereby, remain “blind” to the goodness and beauty that remains in the world. Or we can seek to make way for Divine Love in the midst of this pandemic. Practicing “social” distancing (6 feet from people not sharing your living space) is a way to care for our neighbors and ourselves. Leaving needed supplies on the shelves of stores rather than hoarding them for ourselves is another way. Checking in on those more vulnerable than ourselves with phone calls, texts, video chats, is another way to make room for God to do what God does best – re-member people, join them in community.
To that end, I pray that all will be well.
In the meantime here are some suggestions for being faithful to God and loving our neighbors as ourselves. These are also good practices to maintain mental health.
- Stay at home if you are able. If you have to go out of your house to work, act as if you are an a-symptomatic carrier and use reasonable precautions.
- If you need to go out, maintain 6 feet of space between you and others – in grocery stores, pharmacies, etc. If you purchase anything, disinfect the packaging when you bring it home.
- Establish a daily routine if you are working from home. This includes a normative sleep cycle with consistent bed and wake up times, regular hygiene practices, changing out of pajamas (even if just into clean pajamas) daily, consistent meal and exercise times.
- Also schedule times to reach out to family and friends with whatever video chat platform is available to you.
- Check in on those you know who are at higher risk for the virus.
- Participate in whatever your church is doing online
- Get outside regularly if you are able to do so safely
- Engage in pleasurable activities whatever they are for you – hobbies, movie watching, daydreaming…
- Do something creative each day – write, bake, draw, paint… anything that allows you to make something new
- Limit your viewing of media. For every negative piece of information you encounter, seek something positive.
Even though I walk through a world filled with the coronavirus, I fear no absence of Love; for God is with me; God’s faithfulness and steadfast love, they comfort me.
RCL – Year A – Fourth Sunday in Lent – March 22, 2020
1 Samuel 16:1-13