Don't Panic

By: Ruth Cooke - Mar 15, 2020

Exodus 17:1-7
Water from the Rock
1 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The LORD said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 He called the place Massah[a] and Meribah,[b] because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”

(Don’t) Panic!

A good many of us are probably glued to our news feeds these days, whether it’s the television news or Facebook or whatever shows up on Google. We’ve gone from hearing about a new disease being identified in a country on the other side of the world, to seeing the disease quickly becoming endemic and whole cities in China being shut down, to watching as Europe quickly succumbs to the pandemic, to hearing about cases being identified in North America, to being told that church is cancelled and we should stay home and keep our distance from others until the worst is over. And we don’t know when that will be…

COVID-19 has been officially declared a pandemic, with cases on six continents and in 148 countries and counting. 

We’re afraid. That’s human nature.

But it’s at times like these when we realize that the Bible and our Christian faith has much to offer not only ourselves, but the world.

Moses and the Israelites wandered around the desert for forty years, waiting to be led to the promised land. It wasn’t always an easy journey. Feeding a crowd is difficult, especially in the desert. They got hot, they got tired, they got cranky. At times, they appeared ready to revolt and kill Moses.

But Moses never gave up. His faith in God was tested to the limits, but it never broke. At each new crisis, instead of trying to solve it himself, he spoke to God and asked for help.

And help was given.

Later on, new Christians faced test after test of their faith in God.

First Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried. They thought they were done. They hid behind locked doors out of fear. Then Jesus appeared with words to quiet the fear. “Peace be with you.”

The words of the prophet Isaiah speak down to us throughout the ages: “Do not fear, for  I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you , I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”

It has been suggested that the reason Christianity spread so quickly throughout the Roman Empire, and empire founded on military might and enamoured of other gods, is that our Christian response to times of uncertainty and fear is different from the usual panic of surrounding communities.

In the second century, Rome was hit hard by two virulent plagues. Up to twenty-five percent of the population may have died in those years from the illness. But Christians, having faith in God’s love and knowing as we do that this earthly life is only part of our journey, were willing to nurse the sick back to health, even at risk to themselves. One sociologist has postulated that the death rate in those cities with strong Christian presence was half of what it was in other cities.

As non-Christians noted the response of Christians, and as some were restored to health or had family members restored to health by the nursing provided by Christians, Christianity began to grow. People wanted a part of this calmness, a part of this assurance that no matter how bad things get, all will be well.

We live now in a world overcome with fear. People are crowding stores, buying everything they can get their hands on. This is causing shortages for those in our community who are unwell, elderly, or infirm. The unnecessary purchases of face masks and hand sanitizer is causing shortages in the places where they’re needed most—our hospitals and health clinics.

People are self-isolating when they don’t need to, and refusing to self-isolate when they should. Social distancing is practiced, except… People seem to be okay with the concept of standing for an hour or more in a crowded place with lots of people they don’t know if it means they can buy a year’s supply of toilet paper all at once.

The world is panicking, and it is once again up to us to be leaders.
We are lucky, compared to Christians in former times. Martin Luther, in 1527 during the time of bubonic plague in Wittenberg, said, “We die at our posts.” COVID-19, while being highly contagious, is not nearly as deadly as fear makes it out to be. And with a well-established medical system, even in times of deadly disease, such a response isn’t necessarily called for.

But there are things that our faith does call us to do.

First of all, we are called to care for our neighbour. Not just our Christian friends, but all of humanity.

We can best do that in a few simple ways. Much news space has been given over to crowded grocery stores with empty shelves. When fear bids us to hoard, faith calls us to take only the supplies we need for the short term. Hoarding is not a Christian response to crisis. 

If you have more than you need for the next week or two, share with those who have little or none. Sharing groups have sprung up on Facebook and the internet, and some food pantries remain in operation, though with limited hours and altered procedures.

Have faith that store shelves will remain stocked.

Practice good hygiene, not only now but at all times. If you are ill, stay home. Cough into your elbow, not your hands. Respect the personal space of others. Be especially careful around newborns, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.

WASH YOUR HANDS!     Before you handle food. Before you eat. After you eat. After using the washroom. Use soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer.

Leave the face masks for those who need them most—our health care providers and those who are already ill. Not only does hoarding reduce the quantities available for those who need them, in general, they are of limited or no use in preventing infections when used by the general public.

Keep in touch by phone with those who live alone or are otherwise isolated. I saw a lovely picture this week of a man visiting his father in a nursing home. He could not go in, so he sat outside the window and they talked using computers.

Take this time as a holy time, time set apart for doing those things we are often “too busy” to do. For myself, I’ve joined an international group called “COVID-19 Cleanup,” which is exactly what it sounds like. A group of people from all over the world have committed to cleaning up their living spaces in the coming weeks.

Pray daily. Not prayers of lament or complaint, but prayers of thanks. Because we do have so much to be thankful for. We have food, we have shelter, we have health care, we have each other.

Give thanks, too, for the good things that may come of this. The air in China is cleaner than it has been in decades. I’m told they can now see the bottom of the canals in Venice. The slowdown in human activity has slowed down the destruction of our earth.

We live in troubling times, to be sure. But have faith. The message of God is the same to us here and now as it was to the ancient Israelites, as it was to the earliest Christians, as it was to Martin Luther.

Don’t be afraid. My love is stronger, my love is stronger than your fear.
Don’t be afraid. My love is stronger, and I will promise, promise to be always near.

We are not alone. God is with us. Thanks be to God!