Responding to Covid-19 – a Reflection (Dated: March 13, 2020)
I did not get to watch the Taoiseach’s speech while it was live in Washington yesterday, where he outlined the government’s new recommendations with regards to Covid-19. The news came to me amidst a WhatsApp conversation that was going on with some of our Elders. Even so, after reading the online chatter that followed, and watching the speech later that afternoon on replay, I couldn’t help but think it was all a bit surreal. It felt like one of those snapshot news reports that authors regularly have imagined in their post-apocalyptic novels. As I reflected on the announcement and the assurance of experts that only a small percentage of the population are in any significant danger from Covid-19, I found myself feeling sombre and even nervous. Having prayed over these last weeks for places such as China and Italy, the sudden reality that the virus is now very much at our own door really hit home. What would this mean? What would it mean for our people, our health service, and our economy? What would it mean for those who carry these underlying issues that we have all been hearing about? Dealing with severe wind, rain, snow, and their associated flooding, are things we have begun to get used to in our nation; but how do we deal with a pandemic? How is it that we are to face this, not just practically but spiritually as well?
Praying about this, the verse that came to my mind is 1 Corinthians 13:13. Thirteen is often regarded as an unlucky number by many cultures but, in this case, it is a double blessing for those of us who follow Jesus. “These three remain,” the Apostle Paul concludes at the end of his wonderful chapter, “faith, hope and love”, and in these, I think, we find great help in knowing how to face these next few months.
“No one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:28-30
The first thing Paul reminds us of in 1 Cor 13:13 is the gift of our faith. These past few weeks have reminded many of us about that famous incident in Matthew 8:23-27 when Jesus was asleep in the boat. Very often, we use this passage to teach that Jesus has the power to calm the storms in our lives. And, of course, he does. However, this is not actually the story’s real point. The real lesson of the story is neither that Jesus has authority over the wind and waves of nature, nor that He has power to calm the storms that rage in our lives. It is that, when Jesus is with us, whatever is going on, no matter the force or howl of the gale that engulfs us, we can always, wholly, and entirely, entrust ourselves to His mighty and loving care. Whatever these next few months bring, we, too, can face them with faith in the one who created us, who is just as surely with us, and in whose hands we are forever safe.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jer 29:11
The second gift this wonderful verse reminds us of is that, in Jesus, we now have a hope that will never fail. At this time of year, in our church calendars, we turn our thoughts to the terrible, yet ultimately wonderful, events of that first Easter season. What took place then powerfully impacts how we approach our difficulties now. No matter how much our current circumstances may lead us to feel like Jesus’ disciples during the utter darkness and despair of that first Good Friday, we live, now, as those who know what God did on that first Easter Sunday! As Tony Campolo famously put it, it may be Friday but Sunday’s a comin! Jesus’ resurrection permits us, not only to face and endure whatever pain and struggles our earthly lives may hold, but also to know great hope right in the middle of that struggle. As Paul says to the believers in Rome:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Rom 8:35, 37-39
Whatever these next few months hold, we can face it all with the certainty of our Hope. Nothing will ever separate us from our heavenly Father’s love.
“As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34
Speaking of love, the final reminder we find in Paul’s great conclusion to 1 Cor 13:13 is the gift of sharing this love that we have received. Through these next weeks, and perhaps months, many of those around us will be journeying without our faith and hope, they may well be filled with anxiety and fear. As we journey, remembering that God has loved us, so we must also remember to share his love with those around us. Christians have always excelled in times of great need and hardship. Patrick Mitchel mentions this in his very helpful blog about COVID-19 that you can find HERE. So, let us not become self-focused or self-serving in these weeks ahead. As well as praying for each other, let us pray for our leaders and our neighbours, and remember to offer whatever help we can to those who are struggling. We should particularly look out for those who are on their own, who are elderly, and/or those who are most vulnerable. If people must self-isolate, let us be ready to offer to get some groceries or supplies for them, or anything else they may need. Depending on how things develop, we may not be able to visit in person, but we can call, text, Skype, and serve.
These three remain…
Whatever these next few months bring to us, may the wonderful foundations of faith, hope, and love powerfully remain with us not only in our heads but also in our hearts, not only in our theology but also in our actions. And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.