A morning review of our social media presented us with an avalanche of posts and tweets about the coronavirus (also referred to as COVID-19). Fourteen of the first 20 Facebook posts were related to the virus. Twitter? Seventeen of 20. Snapchatters didn’t appear too concerned, and we could say the same for our Instagram connections. Lord knows what TicTok is up to!
In our home the impact of the coronavirus is more significant than average. I serve as a parish pastor, and my wife as a family physician. So I regularly visit the sick of our parish with the tools of spiritual care, and she cares for many more sick people with the tools of medicine. Our children have the vocations of student (one in college and two in high school) which puts them in contact with hundreds of fellow students each day. Our varied vocations have found an interesting intersection in this time of uncertainty and fear. I’m sure that is not much different for you. Think about how much you talk about the coronavirus in your own circles.
So what are we, as faithful Lutherans, to make of the growing concern and information traffic about the coronavirus? What are we supposed to believe about this growing pandemic and how should the faithful respond within their various callings? This isn’t the first pandemic rodeo for the Holy Christian Church, and we can learn much from our forebears in the faith about dealing with this present crisis.
As baptized children of God, we live every day with confidence in the mercy of God. We trust in the promise that Christ Jesus has come into the world to save sinners (John 3) and conquer death and the grave for us (John 11). We don’t need to live in fear of any virus or death. So we live out our callings in a wise manner and with love toward those around us (more on that later from the good doctor).
In a 1537 sermon on John 14:6 (“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the Way and the Truth and the Life…’”), Martin Luther preached the following:
A Christian is a person who begins to tread the way from this life to heaven the moment he is baptized, in the faith that Christ is henceforth, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And he holds to this way until his end. He is always found on this way and is led in the truth to obtain life, as one who already sees the shore where he is to land. He is prepared at all times, whether death comes today, tomorrow, or in one, two, or ten years; for in Christ he has already been transported to the other side. We cannot be safe from death for a minute; in Baptism all Christians begin to die, and they continue to die until they reach the grave.
One who is baptized into Christ “holds this way until his end.” Baptism gives us an entirely different perspective on life in this world. Romans 6 lays it out clearly. We are already dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (v. 11). The wage due for our sin has been paid in our stead by Jesus (v. 10). We put to death the old Adam each day, dying and rising in Jesus. Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection (v. 4) we “continue to die” until we reach the grave. Baptized into the death and life of Jesus we now, in real time, “see the shore where we are to land.” We taste and see it when Jesus feeds us with His actual Body and Blood in the Supper for the forgiveness of our sins! He keeps us, body and soul, to life everlasting by His Body and Blood. No virus or plague can change that reality.
In the meantime, we confidently move from the altar into our vocations in fervent love for one another. As baptismal water covers us with the blood of Jesus and defends us against the assaults of the devil, so a good handwashing with soap and water can defend us against the assaults of the coronavirus. At this point all healthcare workers are at a loss to understand how this virus will play out. Will it be a 21st-century version of the Spanish flu or just a widespread bad cold? Only God knows.
Out of love for our neighbor, it’s probably a good idea to observe social distancing, which offers a great time to rejoice in the blessings of the family and home that God has given you. Instead of face-to-face visits with friends or elderly family members, a phone call, FaceTime chat, Snapchat, or text message might be best for a time. And listen to the common-sense solutions like washing your hands often and not touching your face!
This crisis has also afforded us the opportunity to show the love of Christ to those most in need of it. We pray for them, we speak well of them, and we show them kindness and compassion. Through all of this chaos and uncertainty, the faithfulness of God remains. We need not fear.
Rev. David Magruder is pastor of Peace with Christ Lutheran Church in Fort Collins, Colorado. Dr. Joy Magruder, MD is a practicing physician at Direct Family Care of Northern Colorado in Fort Collins with more than 20 years of experience in family medicine.
 Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 24: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 24, pp. 50–51). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.