Friday, March 6, 2020

A Pastoral Concern: The Church Militant, Pastoral Care, and the Coronavirus

So much can be said about the current concerns with the coronavirus.  One article is here at the blog of Gene E. Veith.  It is hard to be concise when addressing pastoral concerns and allaying the fears of members, but here goes.  Please pardon me if this rambles.

The first thing we are all to remember is that we are the redeemed children of God.  That means we remain in God's care at all times and in all circumstances.  God is quite aware that the coronavirus is going around the world and has many concerned and fearful.  God knows that the world has been corrupted and that disease is common.  Just ask generations past about the Plague, small pox, and malaria.  While these diseases may have brought many lives to a swift end, none of them has removed a person from the kingdom of God.  Whoever believes in Jesus will live, even though he dies; and some are brought into everlasting glory and peace through diseases.  But we look for the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting--whether we die by disease, disaster, or peacefully in our beds at 95 years old.  We are redeemed children of God.  We are safe and secure in God's Church and in Jesus' care.  Fear not.

But we are in the Church Militant.  We continue to fight daily against the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.  The devil uses the troubles of this world (including the coronavirus) to instill fear and panic in us.  Our own sinful flesh is an ally.  We are tempted to use sickness and disease as excuses for avoiding Christ, his word, and his sacraments.  While common sense tells us to stay home when we are ill, it is fear and panic which causes us to avoid the Church.  The fact is, we are in the Church Militant.  We struggle.  We battle.  We fight against sin and temptation.  And we cannot stand on our own.  The very fact that we are going to die ought to have us recognize that we need something outside of ourselves to sustain our faith, to stand against sin and temptation, and to overcome death.  God has granted it!--the word and the sacraments.  Our fears ought not keep us away from the Church; they ought to drive us to the altar of our Lord with great zeal and urgency for our comfort.  We are in the Church Militant, and no one gets out of it alive.  Our hope and victory come only through Jesus, and he comes to us only in the word and the sacraments.  Therefore, as much as it remains in our power, we will gather for worship for the forgiveness of sins, for comfort in our fears, and for strength to continue the battle.

Still, there are some practical concerns about the spread of disease.  Much of these concerns are easily addressed.  Wash your hands, a lot.  Stay home when you are sick.  Do you want to avoid shaking hands?  Fine.  Many do that when they are nursing a cold anyway.  Wear a mask?  If you think it helps, go ahead.  There is nothing wrong with caution, as long as caution is not driven by panic.

What about other concerns, such as the use of the Common Cup in Holy Communion?  For centuries, the Christian Church used only the Common Cup for Holy Communion.  And the Church has survived many epidemics along the way.  I recall the AIDS scare is what introduced the individual cups into our usage--again, driven by panic rather than information.  The fact is, many studies have demonstrated that the Common Cup is not a petri dish.  Communicable diseases do not get communicated well at all with the Common Cup.  The precious metal (gold, silver), the alcoholic content in the wine, and the repeated wiping with a purificator (cloth) all limit any chance for disease to make it pretty much irrelevant.  (If you think the individual cups are a more sanitary option, consider how much they are handled before you get one.)  Most importantly, Holy Communion is the body and blood of Christ, given by our Lord for the blessing and benefit of his people.  This is nothing to be avoided, but cherished.  It is not to be feared, but desired.  It is not death in the cup, but life.  Fear not.

Finally, what about the care of the sick and dying?  Simple: The pastor cares for the sick and dying.  He sits with them, prays with them, communes them, and serves them during their final moments, which also may be their most fearful moments.  The pastor does not flee; he stands his ground and serves God's people as long as they are in the Church Militant.  If the pastor becomes a casualty along the way, so be it.  It is still Christ's Church, and he will provide a way for his people to be cared for.  After all, this is the Church Militant.  People die, but none are lost.  Jesus delivers people to glory, and the pastor serves as best he can to comfort, to absolve, and to care for the people under his charge until God delivers them to the Church Triumphant.  Eventually the pastor, whether succumbing by disease or age, will be delivered there too.

If you have any specific concerns about coronavirus or any other grave fears, speak to your pastor.  And for future reference--there will be other epidemics in the future.  There always are.  In the case of future epidemics, re-read this article and substitute the latest health concern wherever you read "coronavirus."  It will still apply.

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