Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, my family and those whom God loves:
How do we as Christians and as congregations respond to the COVID pandemic? I’m going to suggest we begin with what we confess as Christians. I appreciate what Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller has said in this video (audio back up):
Lutheran Church – Canada president Rev. Timothy Teuscher also offers these words from the past:
When the black plague broke out in Wittenberg, Martin Luther wrote an open letter entitled “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 43, pp. 115-138). It is a biblical, practical, and timely reflection on the proper response of Christians to death and suffering. In his letter, Luther speaks about: being fervent in prayer; the duties we have toward our neighbour while at the same time preserving our own life as a gift of God; doing everything possible to counteract death and the plague by using medicines, avoiding places and persons infected, and the like; and the responsibilities that those in certain offices or vocations such as pastors, government officials, and health care providers have toward the sick and suffering and toward the well-being of society as a whole.
Luther also adds some instructions on how we should care for our own souls in times when the shadow of death looms over us: namely, by attending church and listening to the sermon so that we might “learn through God’s word how to live and how to die,” and that “everyone should prepare in time and get ready for death by going to confession and taking the sacrament once every week or fortnight.” The Large Catechism reminds us of the benefits of partaking of the Lord’s Supper in these words: “We must never think of the Sacrament as something harmful from which we had better flee, but as a pure, wholesome, comforting remedy that grants salvation and comfort. It will cure you and give you life both in soul and body. For where the soul has recovered, the body also is relieved. Why, then, do we act as if the Sacrament were a poison, the eating of which would bring death?” (V. 68).
Luther concludes his letter in this way: “We admonish and plead with you in Christ’s name to help us with your prayers to God so that we may do battle with word and precept against the real and spiritual pestilence of Satan in his wickedness with which he now poisons and defiles the world.” In light of last Sunday’s appointed Gospel Reading on the temptation of our Lord, the following words from the Large Catechism of the seventh petition of the Lord’s Prayer (“But deliver us from evil”) are most timely: “There is also included in this petition whatever evil may happen to us under the devil’s kingdom: poverty, shame, death, and, in short, all the agonizing misery and heartache of which there is such an unnumbered multitude on the earth. Since the devil is not only a liar, but also a murderer, he constantly seeks our life. He wreaks his vengeance whenever he can afflict our bodies with misfortune and harm. Therefore, it happens that he often breaks men’s necks or drives them to insanity, drowns some, and moves many to commit suicide and to many other terrible disasters. So there is nothing for us to do upon earth but to pray against this archenemy without stopping. For unless God preserved us, we would not be safe from this enemy even for an hour” (III. 115-116).
Every Christian needs to be responsible for monitoring their own health and “self-isolating” as needed. At the same time, we as Christians also need to be there to help those who contract this disease and support them and their families.
One of the ways the Church supports people in this time of crisis is through worship and pastoral care. Pastor’s will be available to care for the sick and dying while trying not become part of the problem.
As for worship, there are many groups in society who are choosing not to meet in order to prevent this disease from being passed on. The Church, however, will continue to meet as long as possible.
Now some aspects of worship may need to be adjusted so as to better prevent the spread of this disease. It may be quite appropriate to share the peace without physically exchanging it personally; to suspend passing the offering plates and sitting a little further from each other. However, people still need the comfort of God’s Word proclaimed and the eternal medicine of the Lord’s Supper. Holy Communion, in particular, will require diligence in maintaining hygiene using best practices.
There are some people who have suggested we discontinue the Lord’s Supper, but I will stand with what Rev. Timothy Teuscher has said:
Regarding Holy Communion and the common cup, we are reminded that this is a sacramental meal and that the Lord comes to us in His crucified and risen flesh for the forgiveness of sins. We eat and drink in a supernatural way the body and blood of Christ, hidden under the forms of bread and wine. Here is where our Lord Incarnate comes to us and enters our flesh in His flesh. Pastors are encouraged to teach and remind members of the sacramental nature of Holy Communion and the blessings bestowedthrough it, while following appropriate hygienic practices in the distribution of the Sacrament.
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. – Psalm 46
Grace be with you,