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Coronavirus: Finding Mercy in a Tyrant’s Reign

…and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour… (Luke 23:44)



I confess. I thought pandemics were medieval.


Sure I remember SARS and Ebola. But those didn’t get close. They affected others. I caught H1N1 (Swine Flu) but I recovered eventually and life went on. This one seems different…global and insidious. It hides and then pounces on its prey. It decimates the older folks among us…and I’m almost one of those…but the impact on the young can be equally devastating. Medical personnel are in the line of fire. First responders are falling to the virus. Its deadly impact is felt by all.


Corona has pulled the rug out from under me…knocked my legs out from under me.

I’m concerned that a friend or family member will soon be fighting Corona. It’s getting closer.


And you?


For Western Christianity, this is passion week—Pascha (though for Eastern Christianity, it’s next week). It’s the week of Jesus’ suffering. Luke reminds us that the week culminated with a three-hour mid-day darkness that covered the whole land. In the next breath, Luke mentions that the temple veil was torn in two. Then “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” The light was snuffed out, apparently.


Thus ended the darkest week in the history of humankind. The people, seeing what transpired, returned home beating their breasts.


What they saw pulled the rug out from under them.


Think of Peter, John, Mary…


In hindsight we see Jesus’ resurrection, defeating death. But if we did not know that, if we could go back in time to that dark Friday and Saturday, we would conclude that those disciples and the band of women followers were overcome by a tidal wave of deep despair. Jesus’ crucifixion was the worst-case scenario.


And yet, in that darkest of moments, the temple veil was torn. It was more than a symbol, of course. It came to represent the dawning reality of the church…that nothing separates the nations (Jews and Gentiles) from each other…and nothing separates them from God, their Father and Creator. The way is open!


Corona—the word is Latin for crown. The virus looks a little like a crown when viewed under a microscope.


Ironic, isn’t it? A microscopic virus has claimed a world-wide sovereignty that limits the activities of the world’s population. Corona has become the microscopic tyrant-king to which we all offer forced submission!


Tyrants reign during dark times, but the darkness that envelopes their reign makes the light more apparent and attractive. It may be too soon to ask the question, but I wonder if any good can come from Corona’s tyranny.


Pope Frances, in his recent address which draws from another dark moment in the gospels, noted that the virus has taught us that we are much closer, much more related than we had thought. Corona lays bare our common humanity. “All of us are called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other.” In this fractured world, might Corona’s evil tear the temple veil—the walls that separate us?


I’m thankful for the internet and its potential to connect us even in isolation. I’ve noticed that those I’m eager to touch base with during this crisis are those I love most—family first and then spiritual brothers and sisters with whom my life has intersected over the years. The retreat from “busyness” and the tyranny of the urgent fosters a reconnection with those we love and value. Corona slows us down to realize how vital relationships are to our happiness. Created, as we are, in the image of the Father-Son-Spirit God, we are made to connect, to relate. Corona brings that back into focus.


The invasion of the tyrant-virus has slowed life for some of us, but not others. Medical practitioners and first responders serve in extreme conditions, exposed to death. For this moment in time, our heroes are no longer athletes and actors, but doctors, nurses, emergency responders and public servants who actually serve. The invader has stripped away false values, retuning us to authentic servanthood.


Corona has also exposed our false sense of security. Idols are toppling. Sports, entertainment, dining, travel, investments, business… legitimate and beneficial activities as well as some illegitimate ones, had morphed into the opium of the people…the drugs of choice for medicating our relentless emptiness. As we gave them our time and resources, their grip tightened. Instead of our servants, they became our idols…objects of devotion and worship. We had not seen them that way. Perhaps, now that Corona has wrested us from their grip, we can.


This microscopic tyrant-king thrusts his sword right in the heart of our ego. Vulnerable. No matter how we defined our value previously (wealth, mobility, status, health, sexual prowess, skills, knowledge, etc.), it is all vulnerable now…exposed.


Maybe the hidden mercy in Corona’s darkness is in prying our hearts loose, freeing us to remember and long for another king.


In the words of the real king, it is time to “wake up and strengthen the things that remain.” (Revelation 3:2)


It seems a good moment to pray…

Our Father and loving Shepherd, We are battling with a microscopic invader, a pretender king. So we turn to you and to your crowned Son and to your indwelling Spirit as we recall that the darkest moment of history was the moment of our redemption and reconciliation to you. So in this new dark moment, we lift our eyes to you. We place our hope in you who are a shield about us and the lifter of our heads. What you have begun, in mercy continue. Heal our divisions and lead us back to love of neighbor. Heal us from our idols and return us to the Son of your love. Heal our relationships, long-neglected. Restore our battered egos that we may find our true value in relating to you as sons and daughters.

Lord, have mercy on those who have no home in which to shelter, no doctor to consult, no resources to procure their daily bread, no family to draw near to, no awareness to protect themselves, no state to belong to. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.

Grant to your people to turn aside from blame, self-preservation, superiority and false Idols, to love, empathy and the life-giving dynamic of a gospel of reconciliation.

Grant us not to forget, once the scourge is past, the value and beauty of this moment.

Amen.

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