Have you ever been afraid? I know we can all tell stories about ourselves. As for me, I especially remember three times when I quaked in my boots.
- In 2013, I was standing on a corner in Hebron and I saw a red laser dot appear on my chest. I looked and realized it was an Israeli sniper targeting me from across the street. I felt threatened.
- I remember walking out of a hospital room in Halifax in 1989 and heading to a bathroom where I scrubbed vigorously for about 15 minutes because I wasn’t sure if I had come in contact with blood from a friend who was one of the first AIDS patients in Atlantic Canada. I was panicked and I felt like I couldn’t control what had just happened. I prayed and wept over my carelessness.
- Then there was the time in 1983, in Grande Prairie, when I watched a creepy, little monster crawl around on the outside of an airplane destroying the engines. It was a scene in the Twilight Zone movie. I’ve never really figured out why I was so creeped out by this!
Fear is something we have all experienced:
- Our ancestors felt it when they first walked on two legs and ferocious, prehistoric creatures chased them.
- Fear was present in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was betrayed by Judas and then arrested by the Temple police.
- Fear raises its head in our lives when we are in situations where we feel threatened or things seems out of our control or when we don’t fully understand what is happening to us.
Over the past couple of weeks, like many of you, I have been watching the Coronavirus pandemic unfold. The news stories moved slowly at first. Today, it seems the only news being reported is about the pandemic. Fear is gripping many. So much so that it has even caused a shortage of toilet paper!
Our scriptures are filled with stories of people who were afraid; then an angel appears bringing a message from God, “Fear not!” That was the message over 2,000 years ago when angels spread the word of the birth of Jesus. Later, they offered the same message at his empty tomb. It is the same message that God wants us to hear today.
In periods of fear, in the face of adversity, in times of trial, God has always been present.
- It was that way in the Biblical times.
- It was that way throughout the history of the church.
- It is the same today.
The Christian community has faced many tribulations over time and because of the teachings of Jesus we have responded by faithfully focusing on the needs of others.
Around 250 A.D., a plague was sweeping the Roman Empire reportedly killing up to 5,000 a day. Cyprian, a Bishop, preached to his flock that since Christ had conquered death they had nothing to fear. Many responded by caring for others – it cost a lot of them their lives. But, it became a turning point, because of their example, many more turned to Christianity.
Today, as people of faith, we are called to do almost the opposite. (Unless you are a health care provider!) In this time, we encourage people to respond with prudence and an abundance of care to help slow the spread of the pandemic and reduce their contact with others.
- We have been asked not to gather in large numbers – that is why we have decided to cancel worship services.
- We have also been encouraged to practice “social distancing” by staying at least 3 feet away from others.
These measures will help protect people from infection. In turn, this will slow the progress of COVID-19 locally and reduce the stress on our already strained health care system. Hopefully, more of those who will be in need will receive better care.
(Also, did you know saying the Lord’s Prayer takes exactly as long as the Center for Disease Control recommends for washing your hands? Wash and pray!)
So, in order to best care for our each other and the broader community, we along with many other churches have chosen to heed the advice of public health, medical and scientific professionals concerning the COVID-19 virus and we are suspending worship as well as all other gatherings and postponing meetings and events. This is a hard choice because it means we will not be together in the same ways as usual in the coming weeks.
As I was lamenting these changes and how our congregation will be dispersed, I came across on article in the New York Times by the Rev. Dr. Esau McCaulley, an Anglican priest and assistant professor at Wheaton College, who was focused on the same concern. He concludes his op-ed by writing about how in the Gospel of John, Jesus tells the disciples that he must go so the Holy Spirit can come. He writes, “The loss of his physical presence through his death, resurrection and ascension would lead to an even deeper communion with God. It is possible that, strangely enough, the absence of the church will be a great testimony to the presence of God in our care for our neighbors.”
In this time, we need to realize the best way we can care for others is to distance ourselves from each other physically – but not spiritually. We can continue to pray for one another and for all in need. We can also stay in touch by phone, email or through social media.
As we turn away from fear and toward caring, we believe:
God will continue to journey with us and help guide us through Lent and until this crisis is resolved.
God invites us to reach out in love and concern to all who are burdened during this challenging time in prayer and in connecting with them through other means.
Today, the way forward may not be entirely clear but as our Creed tells us, “In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God!”
A Prayer for These Times
I have slightly modified the following Coronavirus prayer that was written by Kerry Weber and published in America: The Jesuit Review: https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2020/03/02/coronavirus-prayer
Jesus Christ, you traveled through towns and villages “curing every disease and illness.”
At your command, the sick were made well. Come to our aid now, in the midst of the global spread of the coronavirus, that we may experience your healing love.
May those who are sick with the virus regain their strength and health through quality medical care.
Heal us from our fear, which prevents nations from working together and neighbors from helping one another.
Heal us from our pride, which can make us claim invulnerability to a disease that knows no borders.
Jesus Christ, healer of all, stay by our side in this time of uncertainty and sorrow. Be with those who have died from the virus. May they be at rest with you in your eternal peace. Be with the families of those who are sick or have died. As they worry and grieve, defend them from illness and despair. May they know your peace.
Be with the doctors, nurses, and all medical professionals who seek to heal and help those affected and who put themselves at risk in the process. Be also with medical scientists and researchers around the world with wisdom and insight, skill, dedication and fortitude, as they combat COVID-19. May their work yield knowledge and understanding to find a vaccine, treatments and deterrents to stop its spread. May they know your protection and peace.
Be with the leaders of all nations. Give them the foresight to act with compassion and true concern for the well-being of all people and creation. Give them the wisdom to invest in long-term solutions that will help prepare for or prevent future outbreaks of this and other diseases that threaten the lives of our brothers and sisters, nations and communities, young and old alike. May they know your peace, as they work together to achieve it on earth.
Whether we are home or abroad, surrounded by many people suffering from this illness or only a few, Jesus Christ, stay with us as we endure and mourn, persist and prepare. In place of our fear, give us your peace. Jesus Christ, heal us. Amen.