Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9
Romans 5:1-2, 5-8
Is the Lord in Our Midst or Not?
Is the Lord in our midst or not? When the Israelites were dying of thirst in the desert, it caused them to question whether God was on their side or not. In times of crisis, we too might question whether God is with us or against us. Looking back through human history we find the answer. In the darkest times, the light of Christ always shines the brightest. Why? Because, during our most difficult times, more people tend to remember God and turn back to Him for help. And, the mercy of Christ becomes more visible when disasters and calamities bring out the best of human spirit. The pandemic confronting us today reminds me of a parable I heard many years ago at my first ACTS retreat. It goes like this:
Your driving home from work, listening to your radio. You hear a blurb about a little village in India where four people died from a new and mysterious virus. You forget about it until the weekend when you hear that 10,000 people in India have now contracted the same virus, and several hundred of them have died. That evening, watching the 10 o’clock news, you learn that the outbreak has the attention of health officials from around the world, and some of them are dispatched to India to investigate. By the next morning, it’s the lead story, because the virus has appeared in Pakistan, Iran and South Korea. More than 30,000 people have now tested positive for this mystery virus, many of those are dying, and the world is very worried.
Later that day, news breaks of a man taken to a hospital in Paris with the virus. He dies later that day, but not before infecting all the health care workers who were treating him. The President of France announces that he is closing their borders. The UK decides to close its borders too, but it’s too late. London, Liverpool and South Hampton report several have tested positive after traveling to India and France. That night, the President of the United States makes an announcement that shocks the world. “To protect the national security of our country, no more flights from Europe or Asia will be permitted to enter the United States, until we find a cure for this deadly virus.”
Everyone here is scared that the virus will come to the United States. Sure enough, the first case shows up in California the next day. And then New York, Washington, Arizona, and Florida. Our nation is gripped by fear and panic. The stock market crashes. Shelves in the grocery stores are empty. Schools and universities are closed. Major league sports are suspended. All concerts and shows are cancelled. Even churches close their doors. People are told stay in their homes and pray. Even people who had never thought about praying before started praying.
Finally, the world’s best scientists, who had been desperately working to find a cure, announce a break-through...a vaccine can be made that will save the world. But it has to be made from the blood of someone who has not yet been infected. Using the emergency broadcast system, the government asks everyone to get tested at their local hospital.
You and your family arrive and find a long line of people waiting to get their blood tested. Everybody’s finger is pricked to get a blood sample. Suddenly, a medic comes running out of the hospital waving his clipboard, yelling a name. No answer. He yells it again. And your son tugs on your jacket and says, “Daddy, that’s me!” Before your know it, they medics have grabbed your boy. “What a minute, hold on,” you say. They tell you that your son appears to have the right blood type needed for the vaccine, but a few more tests are needed to confirm. Thirty tense minutes later, the doctors and nurses are crying and hugging one another, and smiling. You haven’t seen anyone smile since the virus infected the world. An older doctor comes to you and says, “Your son’s blood is clean, his blood is pure. His blood is needed to make the vaccine.”
As word begins to spread, people everywhere are screaming, celebrating and crying with joy. You are still in shock when the medics ask you to sign a consent form. As you start to sign, you realize that the consent form is asking you to authorize the hospital to draw all of your son’s blood. All of it. “But, I don’t understand. What does this mean? This is my only son.” The doctor offers you and your spouse a chance to say goodbye to your son.
Could you even walk into the room where they have your son to say goodbye? “Mommy, what’s going on? Daddy, what’s happening?” Could you sign the consent form and let them take your son’s life? Could you walk away from your son as he cries out, “Mommy...Daddy, why have you abandoned me?”
After your son’s blood is used to save the world, a very special ceremony is prepared to honor his sacrifice. Everyone is invited, but only a few show up.
The parallels between this parable I heard 15 years ago and today are stunning. This Lenten season, we are truly wandering in the desert and our faith is being tested, perhaps like never before. Just like the Israelites who wandered in the desert for 40 years in search of the promised land. Throughout that time, their faith was tested. When they were thirsty, they complained to Moses, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children?” Despite their sinfulness, God did not abandon them. Through Moses and other leaders, they continued their journey to the promised land. As do we.
In this time of crises, when our faith is being tested, are we letting fear and panic overcome us? Or do we have faith and hope that common sense and the providence of God will see us through this pandemic?
We tend to forget our history. As worrisome as the current pandemic is, our ancestors faced much worst. Like, 700 years ago, when the Black Plague killed 50 million people in Europe. I am reminded of the courage and heroics of the many priests who gave their lives to minister to the sick during that time. These brave priests stepped into sickrooms knowing that they what they faced would very likely would kill them shortly. Still, thousands of priests risked their lives to give hope and comfort to those who were sick and dying. Their sacrifice is a powerful testament to our priesthood and to God’s mercy.
Today, as news of the rapid spread of the corona virus keeps coming, be mindful of the courage of the caregivers who are tending to the sick, and keep all of them in our prayers. And be at peace, knowing that God is indeed in our midst.
As people of faith, we have no reason to be afraid, and certainly no reason for panic. This is not the time for shaming, blaming or finger pointing. Setting aside what divides us, we unite ourselves to Christ at the foot of the cross. United in prayer, we do all we can to help and support each other. Be the light of Christ that shines through the darkness. God’s mercy will see us through this pandemic. Of this we can be certain . Hope in Jesus will never disappoint.