By Archbishop Linda Nicholls
We are facing an unprecedented pandemic in the COVID-19 crisis. Although we have seen serious illnesses emerge in the past 20 years, we have not seen the emergence of a global pandemic of this proportion in the lifetime of most people today. We, who are used to the gifts of medical science being able to control, eliminate and cure most diseases, find ourselves facing deep uncertainty as the virus spreads and governments try greater and greater restrictions of movement and activity in order to “flatten the curve” of infection rates.
How are we, as a Christian community, to respond? We certainly feel the same fears and uncertainty for ourselves and for those we love and serve. We are at risk, and there is no guarantee for Christians that we will be protected from contracting the virus. We are, however, guaranteed that in the midst of life—in health or sickness, in life or death—we are never alone. “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels or principalities, nor things present nor things to come nor power, nor height nor depth will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:38-39).
God knows the depths of suffering, pain and uncertainty. We will soon walk the path of Holy Week with Jesus into the depths of that pain in the crucifixion and the darkness of Holy Saturday, where we do not see the next step. But that is not the end—our story is the story of new life out of death, of resurrection and hope,
It would be easy to give in to fear, as even the disciples did for a while. The best antidote for fear is gratitude. Giving thanks requires us to look around and see the gifts life still offers by God’s grace. Gratitude requires us to look outward and see more than this moment. Gratitude sees a brief moment of glorious sunshine; the sound of returning spring birds; the smell of damp spring earth; the smile of a friend across Facetime; the phone call of a neighbour; the stories from Italy of people singing from their isolation, balcony to balcony; the acts of kindness generated amidst the panic; the love of family; the comfort of a pet; the presence of God in acts of kindness and grace.
Gratitude reminds our hearts that life is more than the current dangers. Two movies that come to mind when I think of gratitude are Life is Beautiful and Pay it Forward. Both are stories of pain and suffering, and both soar with gratitude and hope through the actions of their key characters. Somehow even the power of Nazi Germany or the bullies in a schoolyard cannot snuff out that hope.
As we face the uncertainty of this time, my prayer is that we will be a people of gratitude who are then empowered to offer hope to others. I have been delighted and moved to see the creativity of many in the church blossoming as new ways are discovered to connect with parishioners and the world. Daily prayers online, YouTube videos of worship, musical interludes and home prayers by the bishop—these are the green shoots of new life finding a way. We are using technology in new ways to connect, build relationships and convey hope. Thank you!
So I ask that we pray daily—beginning with gratitude—and then especially for those affected by this crisis. Let us pray:
God of compassion and mercy,
We lift our hearts to you in thanksgiving:
- for your never-failing presence with us at all times, in all circumstances
- for the gifts of this world that lift our hearts to see beauty and hope—the sun, moon and stars; the promise of spring; the beauty of creation; the bonds of community in friends and family and church
- for the promise of Holy Week and Easter that nothing is stronger than your love for us
May our gratitude strengthen us in hope as we lift to you these for whom we pray:
- All who are ill at this time with the COVID-19 virus
- All health care workers sacrificially serving our communities
- All in quarantine and self-isolation, especially those who are lonely and disconnected from any to offer comfort
- All who are homeless and vulnerable
- All who continue to serve to provide food and shelter to those in need
- All who are now unemployed due to closures and cancellations; those who are underemployed or job insecure
- All leaders who must make critical decisions at the right moment for the good of the whole community that they may be strong, courageous and thoughtful
- All families coping with quarantine or isolation and the fears children absorb
- All refugees around the world, stranded with few supports and capacity to be socially distant
- All areas of the world where the emergence of this virus will be an unbearable strain on inadequate or inaccessible medical care
We pray for your healing grace to be at work in and through us; in and through the gifts of medical science and in and through our parish communities. May your light and grace continue to be known in the darkest of times through us. We pray with confidence and hope in the name of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.
Anglican Journal, March 17, 2020