Covid Lessons from History
Written by Denis Federau
I have had lots of time over the past month to simply sit and mediate as I give my body time to heal from surgery. One of the things that has been on my mind during this time is the image of a disciple of Christ – especially in the context of our pandemic, and even more so considering the new restrictions because of the fourth wave of Covid-19. As I was recovering in VGH, and as nurses and doctors were looking after me and made sure I was healing properly, I could not help but draw a parallel between them and the role of a disciple of Christ during times of hurt and pain.
Recent protests in Vancouver and Abbotsford highlight the level of frustration and angst people on both sides of the argument have. And understandably so. The vaccine passport has introduced a new level of difficulty and complexity into our lives. This is a difficult situation that requires wisdom and grace. God, by His Holy Spirit, has promised to provide us with that wisdom. The question that has occupied my mind during this struggle is what is our role as Christians? I suggest in two ways.
First, I recently came across an article written by David Fink on Martin Luther’s response to the bubonic plague during the 17th century. Luther responded with a letter to critics who thought he should leave town and not risk being infected as well. Fink summarizes Luther’s response in his letter as follows: “those in vocations with responsibilities to serve the common good—this would include city officials, doctors, and pastors, among others—are bound to remain in place” He goes on to say that “Christians are people who have been called by God, and the model for faithfully living out one’s calling is nothing other than Christ himself: “A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, but the hireling sees the wolf coming and flees” (John 10:11).
I think we live in a similar situation today. As protests about rights and freedoms go on, what does God expect from us? Should we also pick up our signs and join the protests, or should we pick up our cross and follow Jesus? We live in a democracy, and as citizens of this country, we have a responsibility to engage and speak up when laws or legislations infringe upon the freedoms enshrined in our laws – whether on this issue or any other (LGBT, MAID, Abortion, etc.). But as followers of Christ, we also have a higher standard. The apostle Paul reminds us of this in Romans 13:1-7. Whether you join protests, write letters to your local or provincial leaders, or engage in any other form, let us make sure that we do so, not only without damaging the gospel of Jesus Christ, but advance and proclaim Jesus Christ through these actions.
The second response as Christians in our times also comes from Luther’s letter. Luther’s charge to those who did not engage with medical resources in the 17th century to combat the plague reminded me of Solomon’s words from Ecclesiastes 1:9 “What has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Even in Luther’s day there were some who, for various reason, did not avail themselves of medication available to combat the plague. His plea to them was, “No, my dear friends, that is no good. Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places where your neighbour does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city. What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body?” In other words, do what you can to curb it.
Maybe you or someone you know cannot get a vaccine for personal or medical reasons. As followers of Christ, we are called to bear with those in our midst who are weak and vulnerable. Wearing a mask, for example, while uncomfortable, is a minimal inconvenience that helps protect those who are more susceptible. Paul’s insight from Romans 14:1-11 remind us to deal graciously with those we disagree with or who have a different perspective. Although Paul does not address physical weakness in this passage, the principle of exercising grace and patience still applies.
My appeal to you pastors is that, as shepherds of your congregation, you continue to lead by example and remind your flock of the call Jesus has put on all of us during this pandemic: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-34). Continue to seek ways to focus the conversation and attention on how the Gospel of Jesus Christ can be advanced through your church’s engagement in the community during this pandemic.
In John 17, Jesus prayed, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (20-23). May our BCMB churches reflect this prayer.
Director of Resource Ministries