March 23, 2020
Christ, the life of all the living,
Christ, the death of death, our foe,
Christ, yourself for me once giving
to the darkest depths of woe:
through your suff'ring, death, and merit
life eternal I inherit.
Thousand, thousand thanks are due,
dearest Jesus, unto you.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #339]
The assigned lectionary readings for Sunday, March 29, 2020, the Fifth Sunday in Lent, are as follows:
Let me begin with a note of gratitude. I want to thank all the rostered ministers in the Northeastern Ohio Synod for their faithfulness during this time of pandemic, especially those of you who are doing all the extra work required by preparing sermons and services online. These last couple of weeks have challenged you to be creative and imaginative in your efforts to care for the people you serve.
I spent most of Sunday morning and a little time on Sunday evening watching live-streamed services and other sermons and reflections from several of you. I have to say I was impressed. All of you addressed, in some way, the fears and anxieties of the people, comforting them with a word of hope. Most importantly, you preached the Gospel.
We are blessed in our synod with gifted preachers, wonderfully talented musicians; and brilliant technological masterminds, who all collaborated to produce meaningful worship experiences for the multitudes who are homebound as a result of the Coronavirus.
Please know that we in the office of the Bishop are holding you in prayer as you continue on this journey which, as of today, has no foreseeable conclusion. The most recent order to remain at home, complicates our task somewhat. This latest development gives new meaning to the prayer that we pray at Evening Prayer:
O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Effective at 11:59 p.m. Monday, Governor Mike DeWine has issued a
Stay at Home
order for all Ohio residents who are not engaged in essential work or activity.
The good Lutheran question is, "What does this mean for church workers?"
Here is what the order states on page 5:
12. Essential Businesses and Operations. For the purposes of this order, Essential Businesses and Operations means Healthcare and Public Health Operations, Human Services Operations, Essential Governmental Functions, and Essential Infrastructure, and the following:
e. Religious Entities
. Religious facilities, entities and groups and religious gatherings, including weddings and funerals.
Our office will make an effort as quickly as possible to get a more definitive clarification on what this means for live-streaming services. Please monitor the
of our Northeastern Ohio Synod website.
On Wednesday, March 18, I was part of a telephone conference call with Governor DeWine, who reached out to church and ministry leaders to answer questions and provide guidance for public response to the coronavirus.
Here are my takeaways from that information session:
- The virus doubles every six days. It is 20 times more lethal than the flu. 40-70% of the people in the state of Ohio will end up being affected by this illness.
- People 65-years of age and older should not be out in public at all. There is a 15% death rate for people 80-years old and older.
- The Governor asked us to carry the message, "Be very careful." Though he can't order churches to close, his strongest advice was to cancel services. Putting people together of any size is dangerous. Close proximity to other humans is dangerous.
The Governor emphasized that his actions have been taken to save lives.
As I stated last week, I have admired his leadership during these troubled times. His efforts garnered national attention in a
article last week.
Almost as if on cue, the readings for this coming Fifth Sunday in Lent put the contrasting images of death and resurrection front and center.
The Old Testament reading presents a vivid portrayal of hope amidst despair in the "Valley of the Dry Bones" narrative from Ezekiel. This is, in my opinion, one of the most magnificent pieces of literary imagery ever written. The global crisis we're enduring makes it all the more timely a Lenten reading. We could all use a breath of life into the dry bones of our anguish right about now.
Likewise, Psalm 130 is another desperate plea for deliverance. But in the face of hopelessness, the psalmist faithfully anticipates God's response of redemption.
Paul is no less colorful in his portrayal of flesh and Spirit in the Romans lesson.
And in the Gospel according to John, we are treated to the resurrection of Lazarus. Jesus gives life to his friend, and demonstrates God's glory in this amazing act, and the people believed that Jesus was sent from God.
Last week I closed with a Prayer for a Pandemic. This week, we turn to Kerry Weber, an executive editor for the magazine
America, the Jesuit Review
. Weber writes:
Jesus Christ, you traveled through towns and villages "curing every disease and illness." At your command, the sick were made well. Come to our aid now, in the midst of the global spread of the coronavirus, that we may experience your healing love.
Heal those who are sick with the virus. May they regain their strength and health through quality medical care.
Heal us from our fear, which prevents nations from working together and neighbors from helping one another.
Heal us from our pride, which can make us claim invulnerability to a disease that knows no borders.
Jesus Christ, healer of all, stay by our side in this time of uncertainty and sorrow.
Be with those who have died from the virus. May they be at rest with you in your eternal peace.
Be with the families of those who are sick or have died. As they worry and grieve, defend them from illness and despair. May they know your peace.
Be with the doctors, nurses, researchers and all medical professionals who seek to heal and help those affected and who put themselves at risk in the process. May they know your protection and peace.
Be with the leaders of all nations. Give them the foresight to act with charity and true concern for the well-being of the people they are meant to serve. Give them the wisdom to invest in long-term solutions that will help prepare for or prevent future outbreaks. May they know your peace, as they work together to achieve it on earth.
Whether we are home or abroad, surrounded by many people suffering from this illness or only a few, Jesus Christ, stay with us as we endure and mourn, persist and prepare. In place of our anxiety, give us your peace.
Jesus Christ, heal us. Amen
+Bishop Abraham Allende