The Fifth Sunday after The Epiphany

The Coronavirus is a group of viruses ranging from the common cold to serious respiratory illnesses. The one in the news at the moment is a new strain called 2019-nCoV. Trouble comes when the virus which is found in animals – fish, birds, and mammals – ‘jumps’ across to humans. In this case the transmitter appears to be a bat in the fish market in Wuhan, China. I am unaware that anyone knows the identity of ‘Patient Zero’ but we’ve either played Pandemic or seen enough films to know that if something is attacking us and we have no antibodies or vaccines then we have a problem. History tells us of the effects of colonisation when diseases were admitted to an indigenous community. The consequences are serious because death is serious.

And it is that last sentence that is increasingly the issue with this situation. What is the risk? What is the actual situation? Analysis leads to diagnosis leads to treatment and so the start is the most important because the accuracy here translates into the best treatment. I’ve found it interesting to read that this virus is more infectious than the SARS virus of 2002-2003 and we take in a sharp intake of breath but it is less deadly as the mortality rate is about 1%-2% (where as SARS was about 10%) and we let out a sigh of relief. But then our brains kick in and we still want to know more. (If 2019-nCoV infects say 10x more people than SARS did then the number of deaths becomes comparable or greater.) And so this becomes global news and we are all aware and concerned – more so if we or those we know are personally affected. Life is risky and managing risk is part of life.

And to begin managing risk one needs to know accurately the situation. And spiritually speaking one of the more difficult things for people to understand or come to grips with in Christianity is that by nature all of us are spiritually dead from the beginning and physical death takes a while to ‘catch up’. Yes, this is serious. Hence all our talk about new birth, new creation, life – life in all its fullness, the taking away of the sting of death (since we still die in this world) – that the risen Jesus is with his people and is still serving them by washing, forgiving, speaking, feeding, healing, and blessing – keeping his people alive each day, week, and year. The Church has been thought of as a hospital for sinners. Holy Baptism is a new birth in which we are joined now to the risen Jesus. Holy Communion has been described as ‘the medicine of immortality and the antidote against death and yields continuous life in union with Jesus Christ’ (Ignatius of Antioch, To the Ephesians, Ch 20). God’s Word pierces us like a sword and also heals us (living here involves all sorts of struggles). The point is that there is life with Jesus and conversely no Jesus, no life. That’s the human situation … now. Life with Jesus is now. It isn’t an investment in the future per se but it is living that has a future (no end).

Viruses bring our living into sharp focus. Risk does the same. We focus on the now (and surviving it). The story of Jesus and his disciples is a similar one. Jesus is alive now and still meeting people. Living is about now and living it to the glory of God – which I think means with meaning and purpose, hope and joy, courage and confidence, faith and love. Note I didn’t say ‘easy street’ or healthily or with lots of wealth – but I will say ‘blessed’. Life with Jesus is blessed. Now. (Yes, even now.) GS