Heavenly Comfort

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”
2 Corinthians 1:3–4, NIV

100,000. As we have watched the news in the last few months, we have seen the horrific daily number of deaths from COVID-19. There have been times when I have just dropped my head, other days when I have prayed, some when I have changed the channel and–if I am honest–others when I have become numb, as if it were just another number like the stock market or the price of oil. I am embarrassed to share that with you, but it became clear to me yesterday when we reached 100,000 deaths as a result of COVID-19. 100,000.

Let that sink in for a moment. That is more than the population of North Little Rock, Arkansas; more than the population of Greenville, South Carolina; and more than Boca Rotan, Florida. Imagine if you woke up tomorrow and everyone in Conroe had died, or Georgetown or Missouri City. Consider if eight times the number of people who live in our state’s beloved Fredericksburg just, well, went away.

We all know, now, people who have contracted the virus, people who have recovered and people who have died. Yet in my prayers yesterday, I had to confess that I was a bit anesthetized to it all. I mean, no one in my family has contracted the virus. None of my family members have died. We have only had a handful of cases among our members at St. Martin’s and they have all recovered, well, so far.

Yet then came that number: 100,000 . Among them the elderly, those in the prime of life and now, sadly, children. Among them teachers, physicians, First Responders, clergy, moms and dads, siblings, tailors, bus drivers–people who, like you and me, have people who love them, grieve their deaths, and feel deep pain and loss.

And so today, as your priest, pastor and friend, I confess this to you and I repent. I was becoming more concerned about how the stock market was doing, the frustrations with how and when to open our worship together, the fear of the economic impact on Houston and on St. Martin’s, the tedious nature of trying to make the daily duties of work as well as my dashed vacation plans, and I had begun to forget that people are still suffering, grieving, and dying–and that number, sadly, will continue to rise. Good Lord, forgive me.

I know, frankly, that I will probably slip into these sins yet again (and they are sins). Yet what I found creeping out of me yesterday morning was not only a need to confess and repent, but also a hunger for the comfort of God. And I was reminded of the verses above: “ God of all comfort–comfort us, so that we can comfort those in any trouble ...”

God is not a quid pro quo God. He does not give expecting anything back. He gives because it is God’s nature to give. Yet have you noticed throughout Scripture that in giving, there is an invitation for each of us to be like our Divine Father? God forgives and we are called to forgive (Matthew 6:12 14); God is merciful and we are called to be merciful (Luke 6:36 42); God loves and we are called to love (John 13:34). Here in 2 Corinthians we see that “ God comforts...” Why? So that in knowing His comfort, we can comfort others.

So I realize, as I need God’s comfort to try to comprehend this incomprehensible moment, this horrific milestone in the year 2020, that it is okay to admit my failings to feel. It is okay to ask for God’s forgiveness; it is okay to seek God’s comfort because, as I seek it, He will provide. Yet He will not simply provide for me alone, but enable me to see more fully the need for comfort that others have and the call upon me to “ comfort those in any trouble .”

I don’t know if these words speak to you today. They are the ones our Lord laid upon my heart yesterday. It was not easy to admit, but I was (and am) reminded how much our world needs the comfort of our Lord right now.

It’s okay to care about other things that have nothing to do with the Coronavirus; it is okay to care even about the most seemingly insignificant things (remember, our Lord cares even for the sparrows, Matthew 6). However, may I invite you not to let these cares outweigh your care for others: for the sick, the dying, the grieving? I am going to ask our Comforting Father to help me with that. Will you join me?

So at the risk of going on longer than I should, I would invite you to seek God’s comfort, so that you too can comfort. Perhaps the best way to start doing that is to pray. Toward that end, I share a few relevant prayers from our wonderful Book of Common Prayer.

For the Sick:
O Father of mercies and God of all comfort, our only help in time of need: We humble beseech thee to behold, visit, and relieve thy sick servants for whom our prayers are desired. Look upon them with the eyes of thy mercy; comfort them with a sense of thy goodness; preserve them from the temptation of the enemy; and give them patience under affliction. In thy good time, restore them to health, and enable them to lead the residue of their lives in they fear, and to thy glory; and grant that finally they may dwell with thee in life everlasting; through Jesus Chris our Lord. Amen .”

For Sick Children:
Lord Jesus Christ, Good Shepherd of the sheep, you gather the lambs in your arms and carry them in your bosom: We commend to your loving care your children. Relieve their pain, guard them from all danger, restore to them your gifts of gladness and strength, and raise them up to a life of service to you. Hear us, we pray, for your dear Name’s sake. Amen .”

For Doctors and Nurses:
Sanctify, O Lord, those who you have called to the study and practice of the arts of healing, and to the prevention of disease and pain. Strengthen them by your life-giving Spirit, that by their ministries the health of the community may be promoted and your creation glorified; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen .”

For Trust in God:
O God, the source of all health: So fill my heart with faith in your love, that with calm expectancy I may make room for your power to possess me, and gracefully accept your healing; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen .”
From The Book of Common Prayer, pages 458 461

And then, finally, my prayer for you, my brothers and sisters of St. Martin’s:
Dear Jesus, our Great Shepherd; it is so easy in this time of anxiety, fear and worry to forget our need of You; and as we forget our need of You, it is easy to fail to remember the need of those around us. Help us to remember–always–that Your beloved sheep are held fast in Your loving arms; that there is no place so deep that Your love is not deeper still; that we can rest in Your comfort knowing that whatever we face, we face it with You. As You embrace us, empower us to embrace others; as You comfort, empower us to comfort; as You care, enable us to care; and as You love–help us to love as well. Amen .”

The Rev. Dr. Russell J. Levenson, Jr.