Lent 3 – 3/15/2020 – St. Paul’s
Last week I attended a zoom meeting of the clergy with Bishop Hunn concerning the coronavirus and how to respond. Bishop Hunn was quoting an epidemiologist who spoke to all of the Bishops by Zoom last week. The epidemiologist said about the Coronavirus, Everyone will be exposed. Each of us will, in one way or another, encounter the COVID-19 virus. And yet, he added, Not everyone will be infected.
Words like this might cause you to start looking at your neighbors with extra caution or barely concealed fear. Whether they’re showing symptoms or not, anybody you encounter could be contagious.
I began to be concerned and wonder at the thought of being unable to avoid exposure. And my first thought was that people around me may harbor the virus. Mercifully, a more helpful thought overrode my initial reaction:
If I’m really committed to loving my neighbor, I should act as if I may be contagious. I should do all in my power to protect my neighbor.
Maybe you expect a Christian to respond in a different way. Consider the Martyrs of Memphis, you might say. In 1878 Constance and her companions selflessly exposed themselves to yellow fever as they tended to the sick and dying. As a result, six of them contracted, and eventually succumbed to, the fever. They laid down their lives for the sake of love.
I admire these martyrs and commemorate them on their annual feast day (September 9). In a time of contagion, their first thought was, We’re all in this together. Their actions were guided by their love of neighbor instead of mere self-preservation. And we should all follow their example of responding with compassion to human need and suffering.
And yet, what we’re learning during the coronavirus pandemic is that compassion includes both offering comfort to sick individuals and being aware that each of us can also be a conduit for the virus to spread to others. We’re all in this together. In a messy, confusing way.
Henri Nouwen once said that we are wounded healers. In the midst of this pandemic, we might say that we can strive to be “contagious healers.” As Bp. Jake Oglesby says: “Our situation challenges us to find ways in which to comfort the suffering while also protecting others from the contagion we might carry.”
And so we take practical steps, including the paradoxical measure of social distancing in order to flatten the curve of the epidemic. Coming together by keeping our distance. If we seek merely to avoid sickness by shunning others and remaining indifferent to the physical and economic impact on our neighbors wrought by this virus, we’re just being selfish. And yet, if we are heedless of the possibility that we might speed up the rate of infection with our well-intentioned presence, we may in fact be putting other people’s lives at risk.
So what do we do? Honestly, we do the best that we can. Wash hands, stop touching your face, avoid large crowds.
Some churches have canceled worship services. Today we won’t, instead taking measures like altering how we pass the peace or distributing communion in one kind only.
We will bring communion to the homebound and hospitalized, make phone calls to the fearful and lonely, place cool compresses on fevered brows, provide and support as we can those put out of work, bury the dead, and console the bereaved.
But the core of the Christian response, it seems to me, is to remember that we are all in this together. And Christ is right in the middle of things with us. This does not guarantee that no one gets sick or that no one dies or that our best intentions and most careful practices won’t lead to unintended negative consequences. However, my faith is that, because Jesus abides with us, we’ll be okay no matter what happens.
I’m reminded of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well this morning. She never expected to see him there, much less to have a theological conversation with him. After all, he was a Jew. She assumed that her own religious practices, theological perspective, ethnicity, and gender would keep him at a distance. Her very person was contagious, could make him unclean.For that matter, Jesus’ disciples were stunned into silence when they came upon him talking to this woman. What on earth was he doing there!?!
There are lots of lessons in that text, like most of John’s stories. But this one is especially important at this particular moment in our shared history: This world is a messy place. Everything we do affects everybody we encounter. Some of those effects are good. Others are ill. And even with the very best intentions, we sometimes make the mess worse.
But apparently, there is no place that God would rather be than right here. With us. And God’s holy presence assures me that, no matter what, we’ll be okay.
I would like to close with a poem written by Lynn Ungar which I used in my email to the church last Friday…..It is called PANDEMIC
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now, on trying to make the world different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
God of grace and truth,
we come to your house today to worship you.
We bring all of ourselves to you,
all of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
We entrust our hidden, fearful, and fragile selves
to your transforming power and gentle, loving care.
Blessing, glory, and honor are yours alone.
Thank you for the many ways your Spirit breaks into our lives
and into this troubled world.
We offer this prayer in the name of the One
whose name is above every name,
Jesus the Christ.
Invitation to the Offering (based on John 4:35-38)
Through Christ we are called
to be sowers of God’s truth
and reapers of God’s blessings.
Therefore, let us joyfully share a portion
of what we have received from
God so those in need may rejoice with us