Letter from the Pastor
WHAT THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC TEACHES US
The present Covid-19 pandemic offers a “teachable moment” for members of a faith community. In discussions with people I have been asked about “God’s role” in all this. Is Covid-19 another plague sent by God to teach people a lesson? Why do some people die from the pandemic while others barely know they are sick? Is God using the Covid-19 pandemic as a way of protecting planet Earth from humankind’s destruction of it? I’m glad people are asking questions. It shows that faith matters, God matters.
Viruses are a part of life and I believe that all life is of God, be it good or bad subjectively speaking. Covid-19 has paralyzed the world in a way that I have not experienced during my lifetime. I’ve read about viruses (plagues) in biblical times and throughout history. Several weeks ago, in a sermon entitled “Giving Reflects the Nature of God,” I shared a historical tidbit about one of my favorite places to visit in Florence, Italy. The Church of San Miniato al Monte sits above the Arno River and offers a beautiful respite from the crowded sidewalks of tourists. This stately Romanesque church became the main Lazaretto in Florence during the flu epidemic of 1630-1631. A Lazaretto is an isolation hospital set up for people with infectious diseases, especially then for leprosy or a plague like the flu. San Miniato became a Lazaretto used for quarantine. It is not a large church inside, but the monks and religious community of San Miniato housed and treated over 10,000 people during that particular epidemic. It reminded me of the persistence and compassion shown by doctors and nurses in our own hospitals who are battling such great challenges in treating patients with Covid-19.
During the last month I have retreated in mind and spirit back to this church to pray. The quietness of its small sanctuary, ancient frescoes by some of Italy’s famous
artists adorning the walls, rudimentary wooden pews, large cross above the altar, all provide strength as I know this is a place of God that has witnessed so much courage and perseverance from compassionate and caring people of faith for a thousand years. In silence I think about the fatigue, fear, and questions put to God from those who cared for persons suffering from the flu epidemic of 1630-1631. Also, I reflect upon the courage and sacrifice of our own hospital workers and first responders, Covid-19 victims and families, and pray that God will guide us all through this challenging time.
The greatest challenge for people of faith is to make sense of the evil and suffering that are present in the world. Where is God in all this? Even for a moment, Jesus felt abandoned by God in his extreme suffering on the cross. But then he released his life into God’s hands. The coronavirus, more specifically Covid-19, is the latest world pandemic. It has taken so many lives and caused so much fear and suffering. It has created an economic crisis for most nations in the world. It is not the first pandemic, and it won’t be the last. Viruses are a part of life. Viruses are essential for life on earth. All of us have viruses living in us, along with many types of bacteria --- in our gut and on our skin --- which are important for our continuing health. Viruses control bacteria and are a natural part of God’s good creation, yet a tiny percentage of them can cause human disease. Viruses are not some terrible punishment from God. Neither are natural disasters, human acts of evil, and diseases that cause us to die. This is a part of the unfolding nature of the universe. When evil and suffering happens, we should be mature enough to seek the strength of God, not turn away from God. Maybe God is most present to us even in times of great suffering when God seems most hidden.