The Plague
Friday of Pentecost 4
12 July 2019
Many people are concerned about the possibility of a viral pandemic. This is not an unreasonable concern, especially since a large segment of the population rejects vaccines. Although no one really knows how virulent the next outbreak of a virus will be, however, the last major outbreak of influenza in 1918 killed between 50 and 100 million people all over the world. We pray that our medical community could palliate or avoid the worst of the influenza's impact. Yet, how should we Christians think about the threat of a worldwide pandemic that might threaten millions of lives? Facing a medical plague is not new to the Christian people. The people of Carthage were threatened by a plague in 251 A.D. How should Christians think and live in the face of great suffering and death if it should come? Cyprian of Carthage wrote encouragement to his flock.
 
If there is a great plague of death, we Christians are prepared to die, and so death out of this world, though a tragedy, is not the ultimate evil. The great evil is eternal damnation, not the death of the body. We fear the One who can destroy the body and soul in hell (Mt 10:28). We who have become soldiers in the kingdom of the Crucified know that troubles such as plagues are both sent to test and strengthen our faith and give us signs of the return of our Savior. So the very trouble we face if there is a pandemic is also a sign of our final salvation vouched safe to us by Christ.
 
We are possessors of eternal life and its full joy (Jn 3:36), although it is unseen now under the shadow of the cross and its trials in this life. A plague of influenza would just be another shadow of suffering cast over the world and a sign of its ultimate decay and end. We have Christ as our Lord. Death only unveils to us His loving face, which we shall see at our passing into the full experience of eternal life. Albert Camus wrote the horrible existentialist novel, The Plague, to plunge his readers into a full and authentic experience of creeping death as an irrational power over which humans have no control. Camus was only half right. We Christians can face death because God has turned the flank of death when Christ suffered it on the cross of Calvary, taking its irrational power as the instrument of life in Christ (Jn 12:24). When we suffer it in Him it becomes the instrument of life. God makes ultimate mockery of death by using it as the transportation into the life that cannot die. We pray not for the plague, but that God would use it, if it comes, for our good.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Cyprian of Carthage
"He who battles for God ought to acknowledge himself as one who, placed in the heavenly camp, already hopes for divine things, so that we may have no trembling at the storms and whirlwinds of the world, and no disturbance, since the Lord had foretold that these would come. With the exhortation of His foreseeing word, instructing, teaching, preparing, and strengthening the people of His Church for all endurance of things to come, He predicted and said that wars, and famines, and earthquakes, and pestilences would arise in each place; and lest an unexpected and new dread of mischiefs should shake us, He previously warned us that adversity would increase more and more in the last times. Behold, the very things occur which were spoken; and since those occur which were foretold before, whatever things were promised will also follow; as the Lord Himself promises, saying, 'So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near' (Lk 21:31). The kingdom of God is beginning to be at hand; the reward of life, and the rejoicing of eternal salvation, and the perpetual gladness and possession lately lost of paradise, are now coming, with the passing away of the world; already heavenly things are taking the place of earthly, and great things of small, and eternal things of things that fade away. What room is there here for anxiety and solicitude? Who, in the midst of these things, is trembling and sad, except he who is without hope and faith? For it is for him to fear death who is not willing to go to Christ. It is for him to be unwilling to go to Christ who does not believe that he is about to reign with Christ."

Cyprian, On Mortality, 2
Psalm 6

O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath. Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing; heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled. My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O LORD - how long? Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise? I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes. Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping. The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD accepts my prayer. All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled; they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment. (ESV)
Prayer
O Lord, we recall Your right judgment against our sins as the time of death comes upon us, yet we know that You graciously hear our cries for mercy. Accept our prayer for us in our time of need, and finally bring us to praise You with all Your saints in heaven; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

For all those who are serving their families in sacrificial love, that they might find strength for every day
 
For Kirstyn Harvey, that she might place herself in the hands of a gracious God and that He would guard and guide the hands of doctors and other health professionals serving her

For the delegation attending the convention of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, that they would have safe travel and find joy in gathering around God's Word
 
For all military chaplains, especially Chaplain Donald Ehrke (Lt. Col., U.S. Army), that they might be upheld in every good work
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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