by The Rev. Carol Janke
When the bubonic plague arrived in Wittenberg, Germany in August of 1527, many people of that village fled. It’s because this plague was a particularly dangerous disease. It was highly contagious and had a tremendous mortality rate. Mercifully, it killed its victims quickly, albeit very painfully.
It’s no wonder then that healthy people did all they could to avoid it, fleeing cities and leaving behind their sick and dying. Soon all the shops were closed. Doctors refused to see patients and priests refused to administer last rites.
And although the well-known professor and reformer Martin Luther was ordered to leave, he refused. Along with his pregnant wife Katie, Luther stayed in Wittenberg, opening their house as a ward for the sick. As they cared for friends and neighbors who could no longer care for themselves, he urged people who still could, to take medicine, disinfect their homes, and avoid people and places so as not to spread the disease.
Sounds a lot like Dr. Brent Roussin, doesn’t’ it? Wash your hands, wear a mask, stay at home and do not gather in large groups.
What Martin Luther did was both wonderful and necessary because there were few hospitals and no health care system able to take responsibility on a large scale. If you want to know more about it check out his letter entitled, “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague.” In it he explained the importance of caring for our neighbor. About a community taking the necessary steps to protect others. And that we are bound to one another, to help others as we would like to be helped.
Today we are blessed to have systems and people in place who are willing to look after the sickest among us. Who go into work day-after-day, knowing there is a high probability they might also get sick with the coronavirus.
And into this caring system which takes a lot of hard work, planning and personal sacrifice we hear of individuals, groups and even churches who believe that to follow health care directives designed to protect all, means their individual freedom has been denied them. And because they believe their rights take precedence over what is best for the whole, they gather in deliberate disregard for the health of all.
It has been painful to watch some churches publicly flaunt health care orders, while citing the church’s freedom to gather. Or to see cars lined up in a church parking lot to watch on the large screen what they could have so easily watched from their homes. Oh how I wish we could have different pictures of God’s people.
And that’s when I thought of my former parishioner and dear friend who is a nurse at Health Sciences Centre. She has worked in many places throughout the world, many of them intensive care units. And so in spite of being a cancer survivor and a single mom, she volunteered her services in the HSC Medical ICU working with COVID patients. She did so before they could even think of redeploying her into that role. It’s because she believes that the way to serve God is to serve her neighbor. All she wants from the rest of us is to follow health care directives and keep safe so that she won’t have to care for so many very sick people.
And that’s why with her permission I want to show you a picture of what true freedom in Christ looks like.