Pastoral Letter on Virus

Grace and peace to you.  It has been a week for the history books and something that looks far from over.  As the preschool kids come in this morning I’m wondering both how long RH schools will be open, when they might open again assuming they close, and honestly just as much the immediate long reaching effects that would have on many.  So, we as both a church and a school have a role in the virus.  I intend to do three things with this note.  First, simply state what I think is the truth about the virus.  Second, reflect for a minute on the spiritual nature of plague, maybe recalling a bit the sermon of from Feb 10 ( on Wuhan which I hoped prepared us a bit as we learned from the saints.  And finally, list a few alterations to our normal Sunday activity by means of a response.

What I Know

  1. We are almost all going to get COVID-19 at some point.  (This is the root of the spiritual problem, more below).
  2. 80% of those who get it have zero to minor symptoms, 15% have a very bad flu, but 5% get sick unto death without modern medical treatments the primary one being intubation.
  3. We don’t exactly know before hand which of those buckets we fall in.  Most of that 5% bucket is those who are over 75 years old and those whose immune systems have been weakened in other ways.  But, if reports from Italy are factual, there are those outside of those groups.
  4. The suggested responses that are going by the term “social distancing” which range from shutting down mass gatherings like sporting events to “work from home” arrangements are not about not getting it (point 1) but about managing the time-scale of when we all get it.
  5. This chart is the best explanation I have seen of this.  If we all get it fast, there is not enough medical capacity to handle that 5% bucket.  A large amount of the 5% will experience the disease as if there were not modern medicine.  If we can get it slowly, stay below the medical system capacity, the death toll is much less.
  6. The absolute best defenses against this are: a) wash your hands aggressively, b) don’t touch your eyes/face, and c) avoid contact with others.  While the virus can spread through the air, most spread comes from close contact.

A Spiritual Meditation

I said that it was that point 1 – we are almost all going to get this – that was the heart of the spiritual problem.  It is what causes the panic.  In one sense everyone, Christian or not, understands that they are going to die.  It is a universal truth.  Even Jesus died.  In times past, mostly due to childhood diseases, this reality was learned early.  Walk through any cemetery more than 80 years old and you will see that reality.  We have lived in a time of medical wonders where most of those childhood diseases have been eradicated.  And abortions are a human willed statistic, not a grave marker.  The result is a society that can largely sidestep any pondering of our universal fate until you start to feel it in your late middle age bones.  This virus, something that we don’t control, brings that reality into the immediate time frame and out of the fuzzy “someday” distance.  And if one has spent one’s life with this reality in the fuzzy distance, staring death in the eye is unnerving.

As a Christian you have two advantages.  The first is the Truth of Psalm 90.  By having a God who is not yourself our creaturely dependence is a daily reality.  We ask for our daily bread in the prayer Jesus gave us.  Our entire existence from the moment of our conception until our death is contingent upon the providence of God and its entire span known and set by Him.

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.  (Psalm 90:2-6)

Now that truth of our contingency, like the truth of death, can make us feel real real small – like that blade of grass.  But the promise of God is that not even a sparrow falls to the ground outside the Father’s care (Matthew 10:29).  You are worth much more than these.  And what God has promised to us he has shown forth in Jesus Christ.  Christ is risen.  You also will rise. 

The Psalmist concludes his meditation.

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands! (Psalm 90:12-17)

As long as we are in this body, we have the work of our hands which the Lord establishes.  When this body wears out, we are with the Lord and his steadfast love.  Today the “Return, O Children of man” is to that intermediate state of which we don’t know much other than it is with God.  But tomorrow, “Return, O Children of man” shall be to the resurrection body and the new heavens and the new earth.  Either way, we truly have nothing to fear.  The Lord will establish us. 

Today we serve the Lord by serving our neighbor.  Tomorrow, the love of God will still empower our steps.

Some Sunday Considerations

  1. If we were 2000 people we might have a different decision, but we are typically 60, so Sunday services will continue until such time as I am told directly by authorities I must shut it down.
  2. The sacrament will also continue.  There have been multiple studies over the years about disease transmission and the sacrament.  All of them have concluded that it is no different than standing in a line.
  3. That said, if you are in an at risk category or are yourself sick, please be sure to tell me as I am not psychic, and do not fret about missing Sunday service.  I have a calling to be a little risky, but that is not yours.  The lessons, sermon and typically at least one hymn or the choir are posted to the church website by Sunday afternoon.  If you wish to keep up with service, that is not the same as gathering together but it is available for your private meditation.
  4. Also, for the sacrament, I will be encouraging the individual cup.  I will not withhold the common as that is not mine to do, but individual cups seem to be an appropriate precaution.
  5. Likewise, if one wishes to refrain from the sacrament, that is OK for a time.
  6. I normally shake hands with everyone after service.  I’m going to suspend that practice for a bit.  This also seems like an appropriate precaution.
  7. We do share space with the preschool.  The biggest area of overlap is the room we use for coffee hour.  The Preschool does a great job of wiping things down, but it seems an appropriate caution to try and eliminate that overlap.  The virus seems to have no effect on kids, but they can be great carriers.  I’m going to ask the coffee hour crew to set up in the narthex proper for a time.  There are also chairs and a table in the bible study room.   We may cancel the coffee for a time in the future, but for now just move it a space over.

Thank you for taking the time to read, and if you have any thoughts or concerns don’t be afraid to contact me.  I found last week’s collective prayer from Sunday amazingly appropriate.

O God, you see that of ourselves we have no strength.  By your mighty power defend us from all adversities that may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts that may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.