“I will deliver this people from the power of the grave;
I will redeem them from death.
Where, O death, are your plagues?
Where, O grave, is your destruction?
The Book of Hosea 13.14 NIV
The prophet Hosea prophesied during a rather dark and sad time in Israel’s history. He was writing during the period of the Northern Kingdom’s decline and fall to the Assyrian Empire around 721 B.C. Now as much as Hosea is sometimes regarded as “Dr. Doom,” or “The Prophet of Doom,” underlying his prophetic call to the people of Israel to turn away from false idols and return to faithfulness to YHWH, is a prophesy of restoration. Things will not always be sad and desolate and empty. For a time shall come, says Hosea, acting as the mouthpiece of God, where: “They shall again live beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden; they shall blossom like the vine, their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon.” (Hosea 14.7)
Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone! And what an interesting celebration it was as this was the first year where not only we did not do our Irish Stew Dinner at the Church, but it was the first year where for me and for many, we stayed in our homes and we did not go down to the pubs, and bars, and restaurants because well, we couldn’t! Coronavirus! COVID-19!
It’s everywhere it seems…In all countries, all over the news, and on everyone’s minds nowadays. It has shut down virtually everything non-essential: all major professional sports, bars and restaurants, cinemas, libraries, and a whole series of important cultural events. It doesn’t matter if you’re poor and rich, beggar or king; no one is spared from the possibility of contracting this very contagious and potentially very deadly form of virus.
And all this comes to us during, ironically enough, as Christians, the Season of Lent; where traditionally we give up things, where we fast, where we do without, like Jesus did in the wilderness for forty days, and where hopefully, and ordinarily under normal circumstances, we come away discovering, or rediscovering that these things that we have chosen to give up, do not control us because we recognize especially during this time that God is the true source of our needs. As St. Augustine famously said, (and I’m paraphrasing): “O Lord, our hearts are restless, until they rest in thee…”
You know, just before I received the letter from our Bishop that all public church services and gatherings would be cancelled until April 8th, I was conducting a Bible Study, and one of the participants mentioned that this Coronavirus has the power to either make us or break us…And you know, I said to her in response at the time, and I’ll say it again: she was right!
I’m sure all of you have either seen on the news or in person at the grocery stores, empty shelves once containing toilet paper and paper towels and/or fresh fruits, vegetables, water, etc. We have seen the hoarding, which is entirely fear-driven and I’ve even seen on “kijiji,” that popular trading website has even banned people from trying to resell toilet paper for ridiculously outrageous prices. Now how exactly toilet paper is going to save you, I’m sure that’s another story…
But you know, this coronavirus stuff, it can either bring out the very worst instincts in us, or it can bring out the very best in us – that sense of caring and compassion for each other; which by the way, when the Early Church was still facing sporadic persecution at the hands of the Romans, was one way the early Christians defined themselves as a people not to be feared, or despised, but were actually showing through their actions, what God’s compassion and mercy looked like.
And so you know, I have hope. I have hope that for once, our governments which for far too long have only invited cynicism and despair, regardless of which party is in power, now have an opportunity to really return to the people whom they serve with genuine concern and care and to do what they can to alleviate some of the hardships that we’re all facing! Just this week, I saw on facebook, how Japan and China, who haven’t always gotten along, Japan sent China some effective coronavirus fighting drugs and along with this care package, was attached a bit of Chinese poetry from the Tang Dynasty, (and again I’m paraphrasing): “Though we may have different mountains and rivers, we all share the same wind and moon under the same sky…”
And one of my parishioners told me a wonderful story this week, where on one neighbourhood block, everybody got out of their homes and they sat at the end of their driveways and they tailgated with wine or whatever else in hand and everybody shouted across the road at each other and chatted. And chatted again, like we were neighbours for real and not just people who live on the same street or road, but as neighbours who know we’re all in the same boat…
And you know, that’s just it. I am reminded that Jesus says: “Love your neighbour as yourself, or do onto others as you would be done by.” And so, this becomes our choice: where we can either care for each other and check in with each other, and understand why we have to do without for good reason; or we can hoard, we can be afraid, where we can say: “Do onto yourself whatever you wish, and forget about your neighbour.”
During this season of Lent and during this time of uncertainty over the Coronavirus, we are given an excellent opportunity to return not only to God but also to each other. As Jesus found out from his little vacation in the wilderness, there is much wisdom to be discovered in the desert when we are called to do without and to rediscover our human need to return to God, who alone can provide for all our needs. For it is written: “one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4.4)
So say we all, amen, amen!