Pandemic Love – Lent 3
March 15, 2020
Rev. Fritz Nelson
Text: Psalm 27
Sometime last week a song I hadn’t thought of for months beginning running through my head in an incessant loop:
The Lord is my light / Whom shall I fear
And my salvation / My God’s always near
My refuge my strength / I’ll not be afraid
Up high on a rock / God will me save
If mother, father, the world forsakes me
God’s amazing love awaits me
You may recognize the song. It came to me a little less than a year ago and you guy’s humored me by singing it in church for maybe a few too many Sundays. Its basically Psalm 27:
The Lord is my light and my salvation / whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the refuge of my life / of whom shall I be afraid
God will hide me in his shelter / in the day of trouble
He will conceal me under the cover of his tent
He will set me high on a rock
Do not turn your servant away in anger / you who have been my help
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!
If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will lift me up.
I believe I shall see the goodness of the Lord / In the land of the living
Wait for the Lord / Be strong, and let your heart take courage
Wait for the Lord!
On Tuesday morning I came in early to walk the labyrinth, the song/psalm still running through my head on an incessant loop. Finally, unable to shake the song, I came up to the sanctuary and sat down at the piano and began to play …
As I played and prayed I began to realize the song had a third verse:
Rejoice, O Rejoice / The Lamb on the throne
Was slain for you / Named you his own
Death where is thy sting / Your victory is gone
Oh my – soul / Do not despond
If mother, father …
Suddenly, with a few chords of the piano, we’re miles away from Psalm 27. This new verse starts with Revelation 5 and moves on to the writing of the Apostle Paul. Yet it flows. The seeds of the gospel can already be found in the Psalm. We do not fear because a loving God, a caring God, a steadfast God holds our lives in divine hands. We belong to God. In life we belong to God. In death we belong to God.
So death, while we don’t necessarily court it, or encourage it, no longer needs to scare us. And if death doesn’t scare us, nothing else needs to scare us either. We may suffer. Life may become uncomfortable. Life may become harder than we’d prefer. But we’ll make it through. We’ll make it through.
Back when this whole Coronavirus thing started my friend Christiana Peterson directed me to an essay by a writer named Charles Moore entitled Pandemic Love. The essay recounts how the early Christians responded when a series of plagues swept through the Roman Empire. In Alexandria, for instance,
When nearly everyone else fled, the early Christians risked their lives for one another by simple deeds of washing the sick, offering food and water and consoling the dying. Not only did they take care of their own, but they also reached out far beyond themselves. Their faith led to a pandemic of love. Consequently, at the risk of their own lives, they saved an immense number of lives.
For the early Christians the equation was simple. God loved humanity. In order to love God back, Christians needed to love others. And since death had lost its victory, they could afford to love without fear, without hesitation, and full of hope. Jesus, after all, interacted with lepers. The guest houses of medieval monasteries doubled as the first hospitals and the spiritual descendants of those monks and nuns were among the first to respond to the AIDS crisis. When Ebola swept Africa, missionary doctors became the first line of defense. And yes, some got sick. And yes, some died. But we find life when we give our own lives away.
And so, as Christians, we find ourselves in the midst of another pandemic. Some aspects of life have ground to a halt. Schools are closed. Many of our sister churches have closed. Event after event has been canceled. We’re being told to socially isolate. To stay safe. To avoid contagion.
Another friend of mine, Kyle Walker, posted a quote from Martin Luther in which he discussed his actions during a plague sweeping his community. After taking all necessary precautions to protect myself and my family, he wrote, “If my neighbor needs me, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely. Not to be brash or foolhardy or to tempt God, but because I wish to serve Christ and wait on him. My sick neighbor is close at hand. I will go to him and surely find Christ.”
Some early Christians welcomed plagues because it gave them an opportunity to love as Christ loved and live as Christ lived. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but we don’t have to fear. Take necessary precautions, yes. But to allow those precautions to stop us from loving, from serving, from giving, from praying, from blessing? No. To allow fear to govern our actions instead of love? No. After all the worse that can happen is we die – and for Christians death isn’t so bad.