“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
Have you heard about the coronavirus? Of course, you have, it's everywhere. You can’t turn on the TV without hearing about it. The empty shelves at the store remind you of it. The list of cancelations and emails reminding you to wash your hands are unending. On Facebook and Twitter, the panic is visible.
You have all sorts of questions? When you see someone cough, “Will they contaminate me?” When you go to work, “I wonder where Fred went on vacation last week, did he get infected?” “If things get bad, will I have enough toilet paper?” Even when you attend church, you are overwhelmed by questions, “Should I shake hands? Should I take communion? Will I get sick here?”
Fear is running rampant.
Fear drives us inward. It makes us think of ourselves and our family most of all. We avoid interactions with others. We separate ourselves from the “normal” things of life.
I don’t know what the outcome of the Coronavirus will be. No one does. I cannot tell you how many will get sick, or how many will die, or even if this will be “much ado about nothing”. What will happen is actually (if we are honest) largely outside of our control.
As these events unfold, what I can tell you is this: 1. Satan is at work. 2. Christians have an opportunity to confess. 3. Many churches are missing this opportunity.
Yes, Satan is at work. I don’t necessarily mean in the illness itself. I mean in the fear that surrounds the virus. Satan is using our fear of the virus to separate us from God and from each other. We are more afraid of the virus, than we are of the God who has promised to provide us with all that we need to support this body and life, and who, when our last hour comes, will give us a blessed end and take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven. We have become so afraid that we forget the God who cares for us.
Fear is one of the three diagnostics provided in the small catechism to determine which god we worship. In the Large Catechism, we hear that “whatever we fear, love and trust” can be a god to us. As Christians, we are to fear, love and trust in the true Triune God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit above all things.
Let me say that again, “above all things!” We love God more than this world. We trust he will carry us through all sufferings of this world to be with him. We fear God more than death, illness, suffering, and pain.
Dear Christians, Christ has overcome the world. He has risen from the dead, the first fruits of those that sleep. Death has no power over you. You shall not die, but live, and recount the deeds of the Lord. The grave is but the gate of heaven. Jesus, whom the world killed, has risen from the dead, to live and reign for all eternity. Dear Christian, what are you afraid of? You belong to Christ.
And God is also working in this virus panic. More so, in fact than Satan. He is teaching us that this world is temporary, and that love of this world is fleeting. He is killing our idols so that we might trust all the more in him. Did you lose money in the stock market? Yes! But you didn’t lose your Lord. May a friend or family member get sick or die? Yes, but Christ has promised that in him death is not our end. Could your political party stop this unfolding madness? No, because they aren’t as powerful as they’d have you believe. Was your flight, school, or work canceled? Maybe, but can this virus cancel God’s love for you in Jesus? Not a chance! And God is showing the pastors who preach “Healthy, wealthy and wise” to be fools.
Fear not! God is with you. Be not afraid. He is your God. No matter what unknown tomorrow brings your way, nothing can snatch you out of the hands of your God, who was crucified and risen for you and your life. We need to hear this message about the Son of God who overcame the world. We need to hear it from our pastors, from our fathers and grandfathers, from our churches, and from our Christian friends because these words are for us in this great time of worldly fear.
Now you have the opportunity to confess.
The world needs your confession in fact. More so than normal. The confession I’m talking about is a confession of faith. We talk about this confession in the post-communion collect in our divine services. We pray that God would “strengthen us… in faith toward (God) and fervent love towards one another.”
Love towards one another. We Christians have a tremendous opportunity to show this love in this time. If there are people, Christian or not, who are panicking, we have the opportunity to invite them to hear the calming Good News of Christ at church. (Even if it is via computer screen.) If there are people who have a loved one who is sick, we have the opportunity to bring their family a meal, to actually pray for them, and to let them know that we are. If there are people who are themselves sick, we have the opportunity to take them to the doctor, to provide for them, to speak with them on the phone, write cards with Christian care, and to show all the Christian love legally possible.
But might we get sick ourselves? Maybe. But we belong to Christ, and that cannot change. He will make all the mess of this sinful world right in the last day. Whether you die tomorrow or 50 years from now, Christ will still raise you on the last day. In faith, “Even if you die, yet shall you live.”
Many churches are losing out on this opportunity for Christian confession. Pastors are spending more time arguing about whether or not communion can spread the virus than they are communing people in need. Some pastors are preaching things outside the bounds of what they are actually called to preach – “elbow bump” instead of “God’s Word!” Churches are more concerned with stocking up on toilet paper and teaching people how to disinfect surfaces than they are about stocking up on God’s word and teaching people the forgiveness of sins earned by Christ.
I’m not saying that washing hands and sanitary communion aren’t important. I’m saying we need to still be the church. Washing hands shouldn’t be the focus of a sermon. Comfort dogs can’t be the main outreach of the church. The forgiveness of sins needs to be preached, especially to those living in fear of viruses, illness, and death. We need to remind the weak consciences where their hope is found. We need to care for the smoldering wicks and straighten the bent reeds. And we need to do this care in proper fear, fear of the God who died and rose so that our bodies and souls wouldn’t be condemned to hell for eternity.
God promises to work faith in Word and Sacrament. That promise is just as true in times of crisis as it is in times of calm.
So, Pastors: repent. Yes, repent of being distracted from your calling. Repent, and preach. Teach the truth of God’s Word. Baptize. Commune. Visit. Be tireless in the coming weeks in doing this work. If a nursing home closes to visitors, call and assure with God’s Word. Hold church, to feed the struggling soul the life-giving Body and Blood of Jesus. Bury the dead. Comfort the bereaved with the Word of Life. Preach the word everywhere you go. Make it clear who you fear, love and trust – the God who has overcome the world. Know that God works faith and salvation, and trust that he will accomplish what He has promised.
Congregations: put into action all mercy that is at your disposal. Start meal trains, prayer chains, invite the struggling to hear your congregation’s services. Take communion as offered. Help your technologically unsavvy pastor stream his sermons, and help people to listen to them. Visit and contact those who mourn. Calm those who panic. Pray for our doctors, nurses, political leaders, and our pastors. Provide for them. Love your neighbor. Fear, love and trust God above all things.
Should we get sick, Christ is with us. Should we die, Christ has overcome death. Should our loved ones be taken, in faith we know we will see them again in the resurrection. Christ has overcome the sinful world – even disease – and set us free to love God and love neighbor. We need not fear, no matter what sin, death or the sinful world throws our way.
We belong to Christ. He has overcome the World. No virus or panic can change that truth.
Pastor Adam Moline