We’ve been exposed to a harsh new word over the past few weeks: coronavirus or COVID-19. Thousands of people all over the world have been impacted by the pandemic. Millions more are likely to feel the effects. Schools, colleges and churches are closing, major sporting events cancelled, stock market in free fall… the crisis deepens every day with no sign of relief in sight.
Over the past few days and weeks, I’ve heard and experienced a wide variety of responses from: Nothing but overblown hype by the media looking for ratings or political arguments focused on who is to blame. Hundreds stand in line at Wal-Mart to face empty shelves of toilet paper and hand sanitizer while others make jokes illustrating new ways to greet one another using fists, elbows and head nods. None of these responses help us truly understand the lethal danger of COVID-19.
In Italy, a physician caught in the worst of the pandemic wrote: “The war has literally exploded, and battles are uninterrupted day and night. By now, the urgent need for beds has arrived in all its drama. One after the other, the departments that had been emptied fill up at an impressive pace. And there are no more surgeons, urologists, orthopedists in our hospital: now, we are only doctors, who have suddenly become part of a single team to face this tsunami that has overwhelmed us.”
He adds: “Cases are multiplying. We’re seeing a rate of 15-20 admissions per day, all for the same reason. The staff is exhausted. Social life is suspended. We no longer see our families for fear of infecting them. Some of us have already become infected despite the protocols. Some of our colleagues have infected relatives who are struggling between life and death.”
What is happening in Italy today could be happening in the United States tomorrow. COVID-19 is not overblown but a genuine crisis impacting our community, our country and our world. How should we as Christians and as the church respond? How can we demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ and be the light of the world?
First, we take care of ourselves to be better prepared and equipped to help others: washing our hands more frequently, being careful about how we touch others, avoid touching our face, keep at least six feet away from anyone coughing or sneezing and if we are sick, see a doctor and stay home. We practice social distancing as a way of protecting ourselves while at the same time, we avoid harming others.
We should also be proactive by maintaining contact with our neighbors and look for creative ways to help each other. Stay in touch by phone or send cards to those who are homebound or sick. Churches offer worship services online or through social media while also looking for ways to provide help for those who will lose needed income. Churches can provide drive-in services from prayers to takeout meals. Phone trees and social media can also be used to regularly provide encouragement.
So, what can we learn from the coronavirus? Among the last words Jesus said to his disciples: “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me and I in them will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) I found four critical lessons within this one verse:
- “I am the vine; you are the branches:” There is always a connection. God is the vine and we are the branches represents a promise that God is always there even during a pandemic.
- “Those who remain in me…” Prayer is how we ‘remain in God’ and should always be our top priority. Prayer reminds us that God is ultimately in control of our ministry and our lives. Prayer recognizes God’s strength and our weakness.
- “…will produce much fruit.” Does our ministry continually seek excellence as we reach out to each other and to the world? Do we strive to set a good example in every area of our daily life? Do our actions reflect our beliefs?
- “For apart from me you can do nothing.” With God’s guidance we can make a difference by helping our neighbor during the crisis. Are we reaching those who really need us? Do you offer an encouraging word to those who suffer? Can people see God within us as we serve?
Coronavirus represents a challenge that can bring out the very worst nature in us or it can be an opportunity to demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ to our neighbor, our community and to our world.
This prayer by Pastor Chelsea Miller can be our guide:
May we who are merely inconvenienced
Remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors
Remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home
Remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close
Remember those who have no options.
May we who have to cancel our trips
Remember those that have no place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market
Remember those who have no margin at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home
Remember those who have no home.
During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other,
Let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors. Amen.
- Pastor Chelsea Miller – Good Shepherd Lutheran Church