This will be a different Easter Monday for me. Typically…and strangely…in the church business, Easter Monday is a paid day off. Most churches close on Easter Monday. For 15 years+ of ministry, I have turned Easter Monday into a day for myself. However, I cannot go get my haircut, or a sports massage or go to a movie. This year, with all of the disruptions, I realized something biblical about Easter Monday.
It was the day that the church got to work…not took the day off. Each Gospel closes with Jesus’ command to “Go and Be” his mission to the world.
While life has been disrupted, the mission of the church remains the same.
During the 2nd and 3rd centuries a terrible epidemic plagued the Roman Empire–most likely smallpox and measles–killing nearly 25-33% of all citizens. However, during this time Christianity was on the rise. Rodney Stark presents a fascinating study on three reasons why the church would flourish and paganism would crumble during an epidemic. One of the main reasons was the Christian values of charity and sacrificial love.
Their attitudes and faith in the face of death and despair was attractive to others.
Recently, I have wondered and worried if we as Christ followers have failed to heed Jesus’ words in Matthew 25. What if we actually did what Jesus asks of us:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me….Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” ~Matthew 25
What would happen if instead of pulling back from others, we actually drew closer to those who are struggling? We can still connect with caution.
During the epidemics in Rome, the pagans would withdraw from others while the Christians began to nurse and care for the sick. In fact, Stark noted that “the famous classical physician Galen lived through the first epidemic…What did he do? He got out of Rome quickly retiring to a country estate in Asia Minor until the danger receded.”
In an Easter letter by Dionysius he writes that the pagans behaved in the exact opposite manner of the Christians: “At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease; do what they might, they found it difficult to escape.”
While the pagans were concerned with self-preservation, Christians responded with charity, compassion and love to everyone. Dionysius wrote this tribute to the nursing efforts of Christians:
“Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead….the best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner.”*
Our assurance of eternity gives us the freedom to respond to those who are sick now. Remember the Easter proclamation that death no longer has a sting.
However, at the same time, I am reminded of Martin Luther’s admonition during a plague in 1527 to not foolheartedly expose yourself because that will prevent you from being able to be present to those who need you when they call for you:
“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”**
What is one way you could sacrifice yourself in service to someone who is sick and in need of support?
Its Easter Monday–it’s time to get to work.
*Dionysius, Festival Letters quoted by Eusebius
**Martin Luther, Whether One Should Flee From A Deadly Plague