A Pastoral Letter in the On-Going Pandemic
Dear saints of God at Zion,
Health is a fleeting thing for the dying. Trying to save your own life – at all costs – means denying the righteous life Jesus lived for us. While the virus-induced pandemic is a tragedy we pray for an end to, it has put many souls in jeopardy. This is the greatest risk: the loss of faith and willingness to listen to God’s Word – not catching a contagious virus, or even dying. Spiritual death is far worse.
There seems to be no end in sight, after some seven months, of dealing with the world’s panic and fear. Some say they will not do anything normal, including go to church, until there is a vaccine. But that is not Christian, because God has not promised a solution or cure. We have endured the virus for quite a while and may have to much longer.
Even if there is a vaccine, we have no scriptural promise that it will be any more effective than the annual flu vaccine. We pray to our Father in heaven, who listens to us, for relief. But we dare not tell Him what He must do. He is God and we are not. Saying you will not do what is right and good until your demands are met is not trust, but trying to hold the Lord hostage.
The same could be said for masks – which anyone is free to wear. They have become almost a life-giving sacrament to the world. It is problematic to assume that everyone else is sick and must wear a mask for your sake. Yet, obedience to civil mask laws and courtesy to others, in brotherly love, are Christian duties. There is always risk in being a sinner in a sinful world, but other people are not your main problem. A mask will not protect you from death. You will die – by some means – and to prepare you well for that day is our goal and desire.
This has been a difficult time for almost everyone. Extra stress, more frustration, and general helplessness define our common existence. Some had mistakenly thought that God owed them ease and a certain number of peaceful decades on earth. Hopefully, that false illusion has been shattered. Yet, do not make more of this pandemic than Christ’s life-giving Word.
Many, following the alarm and dread of the world, have lashed out at others, complained, or tried to take out their dissatisfaction on others. This is not what Christ calls His followers to do. We have, right now, even more opportunity to show patience and love toward our neighbor. This pandemic is a test for Christians, so do not lose sight of what God wants you to be about. This is a time to remain strong in faith, not to fall away from the truth of Scripture and the fellowship of the saints.
If you are quarantining yourself from church services, is the Word still the most important thing in your life? Or has your enthusiasm for watching a recorded service and diligently hearing and meditating upon God’s Word from your pastors waned? Has the virus become your god, determining your every move and thought, rather than the God who baptized you? This is the most imminent danger.
Online services are a good resource. But the word “virtual” means “almost real, but not technically.” The accountability, participation, and public aspects of congregational life are missing by passively observing a screen at home. It is impossible to know who is really listening, who is ignoring it, or who is treating God’s Word like background noise.
While Christ does not command church attendance to be saved, there is a real danger in avoiding the saints in the public gathering God commands. Scripture (as also our congregation’s constitution) does not give exceptions for the able-bodied to Christ’s call to publicly gather around the Word and sacraments. Judgment Day is still coming, and there is no vaccine for unbelief and stubbornness. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25). Do not let worldly reasons become excuses to not hear the Word, hardening into damaging habits. Our thirst for eternal life and the forgiveness of sins should be increased as we consider our own death and the state of this cursed world.
If you are honoring the Word with your time, treasures, and above all in your heart, but abstaining from public services, for a limited lime, please reach out to us, your pastors, if you have not done so. We do not want to lose any sheep. This pandemic seems to be more a spiritual temptation, than a physical one, for most. Do not use the pandemic as a convenient excuse to absent yourself from the preached Word or from the gift of Holy Communion, which is the promise of salvation. Forgiveness and eternal life are offered in the Supper: “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:25). Do not social distance yourself from Christ!
There is always risk in dealing with others in this world (since death is 100% certain), but the greatest risk is Satan making your heart cold and hard to the Word of forgiveness. Fear of dying is not to replace hope in being raised to eternal life. Christ rose over death, giving us victory – no matter what happens to our body in this life. Jesus says to you: “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20).
Examine your attitude and heart. Consider whether you still take your sin and certain death seriously – because disobedience of God is the cause of all death ultimately. Do not be deceived: Your wages for sinning will be death (Rom. 6:23), no matter how much you do or do not do now. But life reigns over all through Christ’s life. Cling to the Word to live forever. “For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:17).
God’s Word Remains Firm
God’s Word does not change to suit the current news cycle. The pandemic has changed much about our daily lives and routines. But it has not changed our goal as your pastors. We are not trying to help people avoid temporal death – as the world appears so concerned with currently. We preach against causing death by murder, but not avoidance of anything that might possibly contribute to death. First of all, it is impossible to avoid death. Instead, we are preparing sinners to face sin and death in hope, trusting in Jesus who is greater than death. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (1 Jn. 1:4-5). This Light is still giving life. So confess and turn from living in fear, trusting Jesus will raise you. We have a hope the world cannot know or take away.
Hell is still a worse danger to you than the virus, even if you lose your earthly life. Jesus warns us not to love our lives in this world too much, but to love Christ and our eternal life in Him above all things: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (Jn. 12:25). This is a tough saying of our Lord. What does it mean? If you love your life or health now, more than Jesus’ will, you will lose your soul eternally. Staying safe and avoiding anything that appears risky can be a god – a false one though. Your God is not your thoughts or what you think may happen. Your God is Christ who already died. He calls you to live in Him, to turn from your fear and panic, and pick up your cross. The crosses in your life are not just risky – they are deadly! The cross is an instrument causing death. So be prepared to die – as you must – in hope.
Never getting close to another person, doing nothing in public, and taking all precautions will not save your soul. So do not be ruled by fear, but stand firm. Our God lives and is in control, ruling all things for the good of those who love Him. Trust His promises and consider the Scriptures to know more than the world’s experts. Do not be thrown off course. Your heavenly call in the Gospel has not been altered in the least. Take reasonable precautions, yes, and do not test God, but believe your true life is in Christ, not how well you manage to sanitize or avoid people.
Trust the power of God’s angels to protect from things seen and unseen. If you do not remain in this world for as long as you want, take solace in the heavenly glory you have been promised. It is far better to be with Christ than to live in a mortal body (Phil 1:23). Know that your baptism remains firm, even when you do not. This pandemic has not made good works and walking in love toward your neighbor optional to God.
Satan uses guilt, fear, and dread to unsettle people, casting them into despair. But Christ uses the preached Gospel to put your soul at rest from works and the curse of the law. We are not to be controlled by the unknown, possible risks, or probable percentages, but by the Holy Spirit who gives us confidence that Jesus will not die again. Sin has been answered by Christ’s death. His resurrection to life means God the Father has been reconciled to the whole world. An earthly pandemic does not make good works or pleasing our Father optional.
Our salvation and God are certain, so the Spirit gives us boldness to live in faith. The Word always gives life, although we are surrounded by death – and will continue to be this side of heaven. “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16).
Our goal is not simply to get people in a building, but to see to your eternal welfare in Christ. So if we do not see you, reach out to us. Email or schedule a phone call or visit. We are concerned for you, especially those we cannot see, in this time of trial and wish to fulfill our call to serve you with God’s saving Word. “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).
Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations” (Deut. 7:9).
- Published: 09 December 2020 09 December 2020
- Last Updated: 09 December 2020 09 December 2020