When Covid restrictions were lifted several months ago, our pastor surveyed the congregation to determine how many would feel comfortable returning to worship in church. Were we “green light” people, “yellow light” people or stay-away for a long time “red light” people?” Turns out, the vast majority were red light people, worshipping online and reaching out to others virtually. It is difficult. I so miss being with people.
Despite pandemic red lights, the church has a history of meeting people in their direst need, and changing society’s response. Jesus spoke of his people, his church, as serving as a light on a hill, as being “salty” when the world sinks into insipid despair. My Christian History Issue #135 records the ways Christians have responded to plagues and epidemics from the first century AD onward. Visit https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/issue/plagues-and-epidemics for a free PDF download of the complete issue.
As I read “The Plagues that Destroyed” by Darrel W. Amundsen and Gary B. Ferngren (page 7), I recalled Ecclesiastes’ lament, “There is nothing new under the sun.” The Black Death and other plagues evoked similar responses as today. Some saw the plague as a warning from God and called for repentance. Some were “cavalier.” No need for masks. People should be free to gather as usual. And the only immunity available was natural immunity. Unfortunately, at the time, medicine had no clue regarding the cause, but at least promoted a “healthy regimen.” Government officials called for “restrictive containment.” Sound familiar?
I read in “Demonstrating the Love of Christ” by Gary B. Ferngren, (pp 12-13) the first century church defied the secular solution to deny mercy to the suffering… “it only helped those too weak to contribute to society.” The church was a salty bunch and challenged the customs of the time. Christians helped the sick and dying as best they could. As a “light on a hill,” they demonstrated love for all and prefigured our 21st century value of helping everyone in need.
Perhaps empty church buildings remind us that being church is to be the hands and feet of Christ —to go out the door and walk the walk. St. Francis is said to have advised, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” We have some great role models from the middle ages and from health care workers today.
Front line and essential workers risk their lives to save others and keep this nation afloat. Not all are Christians, but each is an “Imago Dei,” the image of God as they serve. I began to think of others who help, perhaps not obviously, but in important ways never-the-less. They remain mostly unnoticed until they are absent. Every man, woman, and child is an essential, unique individual. Perhaps now is the time for us to add salt to our lives and find ways to help in our own way.
I titled my novel The Divine Meddler because it is a story of redemption. No one, nowhere, no matter what their past, is beyond redemption through Jesus the Christ. As God meddled in my protagonist’s life to claim him, so I believe God meddles in ours also — even in a pandemic where we are brought to our knees, and see far too clearly our sins of racism, inequality, poverty, and worst of all, pure hate.
As I write this, Christmas is five days away. Although most of us will celebrate in our own homes, physically separated from loved ones, we will rejoice that the God of Heaven reached down and sent his Son to release us from sin and death, in his perfect timing.
If you do not have a church home, I invite you to worship with us at Hope Church (or just satisfy your curiosity). The Christmas Service, like all our Sunday services, has interpretation for those who are hearing impaired. You can go to the Hope website or watch on the Sharethehope You Tube channel.
May the peace of Christ, and the love of his people, surround each of you this Christmas. And I pray January 1st will be the beginning of our journey to reclaim our national health and unity.