March 16, 2020
If you but trust in God to guide you
with gentle hand through all your ways,
you'll find that God is there beside you
when crosses come, in trying days.
Trust then in God's unchanging love;
build on the rock that will not move.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #769]
The assigned lectionary readings for Sunday, March 22, 2020, the Fourth Sunday in Lent, are as follows:
The 23 rd Psalm, the psalm for this upcoming Fourth Sunday in Lent, is easily one of the best-known pieces of Scripture. With the very real threat of illness on display in full force these days, thanks to the Coronavirus, we are literally living in the "valley of the shadow of death."
Now more than ever we need a shepherd to guide us through death's chill shadow in this dangerous world. However, the psalmist recognizes, and the text invites us to recognize as well, that our immediate circumstances are not the end of the story.
The psalm reminds us that no matter what is going on, there is more to this life than the now. It is a statement of confidence and trust in God's providential care. The constant in our life needs to be the presence of that shepherd. It is a reminder that it is ultimately God who provides, nourishes, and comforts us in our times of trouble, and that this provision goes beyond just the immediate but pursues us "all the days of [our lives]"
In the 1600's there was a Lutheran pastor in Eilenberg, Germany, named Martin Rinkart. He was pastor throughout the devastation of the Thirty Years War. Eilenberg was a walled city and it became a refuge for many fugitives, which caused overcrowding. As a result there was disease and famine as well as the regular attacks by armies. At the war's peak, Rinkart conducted up to 50 funerals per day, more than 4000 in the year 1637, including his own wife's. In the middle of all this strife he wrote these words:
Now thank we all our God
with hearts and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom his world rejoices;
who, from our mothers' arms,
has blest us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #840]
I've written about Rinkart a few times in this column, and I've thought about Rinkart quite often in the past couple of weeks, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic that has gripped our world and threatens to change life as we know it. We can safely assume that we know from where he drew his faith. But what I find fascinating is how he was able to sustain it.
The same faith that sustained Pastor Rinkart is the same faith that will sustain us throughout this current crisis. At a time when situations are changing on a daily, even hourly, basis, it is comforting to remember that we serve a God who offers us wholeness and healing through simple faith in Jesus Christ.
A century earlier, during a recurrence of the bubonic plague that spread throughout western Europe, the blessed Martin Luther received a request from the clergy asking him whether a Christian could flee home on account of the plague. The plague had reached Wittenberg in 1527, the university had relocated, but Luther remained to minister to the sick and dying.
Luther's response was a letter titled Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague . It's a somewhat long read, but offers some wise counsel that makes it well worth the time.
Let me take this opportunity to thank our rostered ministers. You have had to wrestle with heretofore unprecedented decisions and have had to take action rather quickly, often with no time to reflect on whether it is right or wrong.
As you lead your people through these difficult times please remember to ground yourself in God's Word and immerse yourself in prayer. Prayer is indispensable, especially in times of crisis.
Also take some measure of comfort in knowing that we are praying for you. Each day at noon during the season of Lent we gather in the Lutheran Center Chapel and pray for you and your congregations.
In my ordination sermons I always remind the ordinands that ministry can be both terrific and terrifying. Along with the joys we also face significant challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic and how we react to it is but one of those challenges. Yet, ironic as it might seem, these challenges of ministry can be the source of significant joys.
In his brief but powerful book The Living Reminder, Henri Nouwen closes with these word of encouragement: "We often may want to run away from our home to hide out and play deaf, dumb, and blind for a while. But we are ministers. (italics mine) Not only dying and lonely people but even little ferrets remind us of that. And so we keep returning to our people, faithful to our vocation and growing strong in humility and love." [p.78]
I will be having a couple of meetings today to determine how we as a synod move forward during the days and weeks ahead. Please refer to our Northeastern Ohio Synod website for all the latest updates.
Governor Mike DeWine's daily briefings and real time updates are a great source of reliable and accurate information. Though the news seems to worsen each day, the Governor is to be commended for his strong and steady leadership throughout this crisis. I especially admire his emphasis on caring for each other and the fact that "we are all in this together." Those words carry with them the reassurance that people are seeking in a leader.
I close this week with a prayer. I give thanks to one of my bishop colleagues for sharing this prayer which she discovered among the myriad of resources and reflections that are proliferating the internet during this time. The author is Cameron Bellm, a blogger who lives in Seattle, Washington. 
Prayer for a Pandemic
May we who are merely inconvenienced
Remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors
Remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home
Remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close
Remember those who have no options.
May we who have to cancel our trips
Remember those that have no safe place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market
Remember those who have no margin at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home
Remember those who have no home.
As fear grips our country,
Let us choose love.
During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other,
let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors.
+Bishop Abraham Allende