Over the last several days, the news around COVID-19, novel coronavirus, has been a shifting landscape in our country. In addition to the news from around the world, we have seen communities in the United States that have had to respond to a spreading number of cases, and we have seen major institutions, like Arizona State University, take actions to help prevent the spread of the virus in the areas they serve. As this news has spread, it is normal for our anxiety to increase as we hear of communities – not that far from our own – responding to a changing reality. We have heard from Episcopal dioceses across the country that are suspending Sunday morning worship services, and we have heard from dioceses that are continuing to host worship services for the time that is prudent to do so. The Presiding Bishop has also weighed in with his own encouragement to the bishops and the church as it relates to the ways that we alter our eucharistic practices during a public health emergency.
All of the actions taken by dioceses and parishes are attempts to help prevent the spread of a contagion, and it is good that our church is thinking about ways to respond to the public health crisis that is blooming in our country; however, it is also vital that we remember who we are called to be in times of crisis. It is vital that we remember that we are ALL in this together, and it is in communion with each other that we will pull through this as the church that is not afraid to minister to those who are sick. It is together that we will continue to practice communion – even if we have to do so by means of online technology. It is together that we will be the church in a time of uncertainty and of fear. Our call is to be the people of hope that remember the promise made to creation through Christ Jesus, and it is our call to go to those that are vulnerable – the sick, the widowed, the orphaned, the hungry, the homeless, and the immigrant. It is our call to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God. (Micah 6:8 NRSV)
In another part of the Bible, we get another story about caring for someone that is ill or injured. It is known as the parable of the Good Samaritan.
“30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”Luk 10:30-37 NRSV
The story of the Good Samaritan is a good reminder to us that we are called to care for the person(s) in front of us. In this moment in time, it means that we are being called to prepare for the ways that we can care for those who become ill. It is a reminder that we are to live with courage and with hope and with love. It is a time in which we are being asked to practice the summary of the law most ardently and with fearlessness. It is a time in which we need to remember that the second part of the summary of the law is calling us to love our neighbor as an extension of the self. We are being asked to practice love in the most radical of ways in order that we will know and share the love of God made known in Christ Jesus.
As we prepare to be a pastoral presence in our community, we will of course do the things that are prudent for us to help prevent the spread of contagions. The clergy leadership and wardens are paying close attention to the development of COVID-19 and will respond as needed. We are considering ways that we can remain connected one to another using online technology, ways to host Bible studies and formation groups in an online format, and how to practice Christian charity as the situation develops around us.
Most importantly, we are considering how to continue being the church in an anxious time. There may be opportunities for us to serve each other through a telephone ministry, making food deliveries, and delivering much needed medications to those that are homebound. As Jesus reminds us in Matthew 25, we are called to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned. (Matthew 25:34-40 NRSV) Our call is to be fearless, to be those that are filled with the hope of God, and to know the healing power of God’s love. Let us practice that kind of love during this time of uncertainty.