Last week, I took my sister Kerensa and her husband Geoff to Bundamba’s Costco Warehouse. They were visiting me from North Queensland and Geoff had never been to a Costco before. The experience was especially memorable because of the timing. We were at the Costco Warehouse on the day after the “toilet-paper” panic-buying had begun, and we found ourselves ensnared in the “one-pack-per-customer-very-long-cordoned-off-toilet-paper queue” (and I wasn’t even buying any).
There has been a lot written in recent days about panic buying of toilet paper in the face of a possible Coronavirus pandemic. This is cause for deeper reflection by Christians. How do we respond if the pandemic overwhelms our towns and cities in the way that the Spanish flu did 100 years ago?
I am grateful for Bishop John Henderson leading our LCANZ Commission on Worship to develop helpful guidelines for passing the peace and for holy communion. I am also grateful for the leaders of our Departments in our Lutheran Church in Queensland in establishing strategies for dealing with potential outbreaks of the Coronavirus.
In this devotion, I am commending to you, the evangelical advice that Dr Martin Luther gave to the citizens of Wittenberg and others, when the bubonic plague struck their town in 1527. The Wittenberg citizens would have certainly seen the same panic-hoarding of essentials that we see in our modern citizens.
In his publication, “WHETHER ONE MAY FLEE FROM A DEADLY PLAGUE”, Luther is really focused on the parable in Matthew 25, where our Lord says, “Then the righteous will answer him. ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'”
We are sent by God to serve the sick and the needy, the vulnerable and the suffering. We serve them as if we are serving our Risen Lord. He promises to be with us through it all.
In his 1527 publication, Martin Luther writes to two groups: to every day Christians, and then to pastors and church workers.
To every day Christians he says “If someone is sufficiently bold and strong in his faith, let him stay in God’s name; that is certainly no sin. If someone is weak and fearful, let him flee in God’s name as long as he does not neglect his duty toward his neighbour but has made adequate provision for others to provide nursing care. To flee from death and to save one’s life is a natural tendency… we must and we owe it to our neighbour to accord him the same treatment in other troubles and perils, also. If his house is on fire, love compels me to run to help him extinguish the flames. Thus it is written in God’s word and command, “Love your neighbour as yourself,” and in Matthew 7 [:12], “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”
To pastors and other church workers, Dr Luther is very clear about the Lord’s calling to provide spiritual care through Word and Sacrament. He writes, “Those who are engaged in a spiritual ministry such as preachers and pastors must likewise remain steadfast before the peril of death. We have a plain command from Christ, “A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep but the hireling sees the wolf coming and flees” [John 10:11]. For when people are dying, they most need a spiritual ministry which strengthens and comforts their consciences by word and sacrament and in faith overcomes death. However, where enough preachers are available in one locality and they agree to encourage the other clergy to leave in order not to expose themselves needlessly to danger, I do not consider such conduct sinful because spiritual services are provided for and because they would have been ready and willing to stay if it had been necessary.”
In all our undertakings, as people of the Lutheran Church of Australia, Queensland District, we hold fast to the promise that our Lord Christ Jesus dwells amongst us, providing for us and leading us. Jesus Christ is “Immanuel; God with us” so we call to him in prayer, praise and thanksgiving, trusting in his mercy and steadfast love.
When we hear the endless news reports of Coronavirus, we Christians are invited to pray, “Kyrie eleison. Lord have mercy.”