I am going to be completely honest: Covid-19 scares me.
No, I am not especially scared for myself, though I am not naive enough to think that I will remain unscathed. But I am worried about lots of things…
I am worried about caring for my family if we have to go in isolation for extended periods.
I am worried about how to make good decisions for the church I lead.
I am worried about the most vulnerable among us. I am worried about our sick, our seniors, our medically compromised.
I am worried about the increasing isolation and panic that may shape our city in the days to come.
I am worried about what we’ll do if we stop having church services.
I am worried about running out of toilet paper.
As a pastor, this week we have been talking about how we will respond to the covid-19 outbreak. We have the hand sanitizer ready. We have shifted how we take communion. We’ve asked people to stop shaking hands. We are preparing an emergency plan. These are all good things to do.
Of course, we are all thinking of how to respond to covid-19 in real and practical ways. But I have found myself adding an addendum to the question of the hour : What does it look like to respond to covid-19 as a follower of Jesus? Does it change things?
I hope that it does.
I am not going to oversimplify here and say: “Because we follow Jesus it means that we don’t need to be afraid.” I think that being afraid in times like this is very normal.
What I do think is that following Jesus reminds us that we do not let our fear be our guide for making decisions. We have a different guide. A simple one: the way of love.
What does the way of love look like in the time of co-vid?
It looks like consideration.
Of COURSE we should take all the precautions we can to prevent the spread of co-vid 19. But not just because we are afraid we will get it ourselves – because we LOVE other people. I LOVE the people in my church, my community, my city. I will love them by washing my hands so that I can help prevent the spread of this illness. I will love them by being considerate to their fears. I will love them by listening to the recommendation made by public health. If I have to, I will love them by staying away from them if I get sick.
I don’t think love looks like declaring: “Jesus will protect me so health recommendations to the wind!” That may show a certain kind of faith, but it’s not love. And we need both.
It looks like putting others before ourselves.
In the Bible it reads “Love is not self seeking.”
In a time of fear, putting others before ourselves grows more difficult. But Jesus followers are still called to do it. This means, for example, that we don’t empty the shelves of a necessary item to protect ourselves. Sure, you can buy some extra toilet paper or canned beans. But our default is not “every man for himself.” Our default is LOVE.
This may mean that in the days to come you will be called to share the things that you want to keep to yourself. It will be challenging, but we walk the way of Jesus, the one who gave up EVERYTHING for those who did not earn it.
Just this morning a sister church asked if we had any extra small individual communion cups. They usually use one common cup, but obviously they want to be cautious. We bought little cups a few weeks ago and I did have a thought that we don’t want to run out. But then I stopped to remember: “We walk the way of Jesus.” And I shared the cups. I confess my default was fear (“But we might run out!”) and I had to remind myself: “Choose love.”
This season is an opportunity to practice showing love by putting others before ourselves, whether it be by letting someone use the hand sanitizer before us or offering a neighbour a pack of Mr. Noodles when we desperately want to hoard it for ourselves.
It is not human nature, I know. But it is the way of Jesus.
It looks like caring.
I recently heard of a pastor who shared a message with his church saying: “We don’t need to panic. Most of the people dying from this are old. You probably won’t get it.”
That is not the way of love.
It’s true that covid does impact the vulnerable more than others. And that should NOT comfort any of us who don’t fall in that category.
The vulnerable are people too. If “only” the old people die in our church, that would mean losing people that I love a lot, and it is no comfort to me. They matter. People with lung conditions matter. People whose health is compromised matter. To take comfort that it “probably won’t hurt us” is not the way of Jesus. Let’s remember that.
And then let’s care.
We have an opportunity in this season to put our faith into real action.
The days to come may be a time when people pull back and grow more isolated and alone. Let’s ask ourselves how to reach out to them. We live in an incredible time with the gift of phones and internet. Call people. Message them. Don’t leave people alone.
We will have health workers in our congregation that are exhausted and overwhelmed and weary. Look for ways to care for them and support them.
People who struggle with anxiety will find these times challenging. Even people not prone to anxiety may find themselves panicking. Be gentle with them.
We may be tempted to lash out, respond in anger, rage online, attack those who seem to be doing harm. Be a peacemaker.
I know that the Bible says to “not be anxious about anything.” I have to ask Jesus to help me with this every day. This week, I have had to ask a lot more. And each time I have asked again: “What does it look like to put my anxiety aside, Jesus?” the response I hear deep in my heart is simple:
Love well every day.
Love well during co-vid.
Love like I taught you to love.
Love, even though you’re worried.
Love, even though it’s scary.
Love, even when it’s hard.
Love with all your heart –
And, yes – even with your toilet paper.