John’s Gospel records an episode in the life of Jesus that is both deeply personal and powerfully universal. As far as Scripture records, Jesus never experienced illness himself. He did, however, experience hunger, thirst, the barbarous physical cruelty of flogging and crucifixion. And of course, Jesus experienced death.
Jesus is famously recorded on numerous occasions being swamped by people who were ill or suffering from some mental, physical or demonic affliction. His reputation as a healer was documented even by non-Christian ancient sources.
In John chapter 11 we are given a window into how Jesus was affected by the sickness of others. He evidently had a special and close relationship with the little family of Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus in Bethany. When Lazarus becomes ill, his sisters send word to Jesus: “Lord, the one you love is sick”. When Jesus comes to Bethany and stands outside the tomb in which the body of Lazarus has been laid, John records that “Jesus wept”.
Christianity does not promise its followers a life free from illness. On the contrary, faith in Christ isn’t a protective bubble from the ordinary sorrows and suffering of this fallen world, which groans for its liberation from death and decay. The ancient account of the disobedience of the man and the woman in the garden at the beginning has unfolded in myriad cascading sorrows and calamities throughout history. The presence of sickness in the world is a wretched reminder of this continuing reality.
But in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, Christians proclaim that there is a new world coming – restored, healed and liberated from disease, decay and death. Jesus demonstrated the presence and power of this new world in his healing of the sick around him and in commanding the dead, including Lazarus, to rise. By his death and resurrection Jesus secured the certainty of that coming, future world as its King and Redeemer.
So, what does all this mean in light of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic? First, Christians approach this crisis with confidence that, in life and death, Jesus is Lord. Nothing is more pressing than reconciliation with him, nothing is more wonderful than the promise of his presence with his people in this life and the next.
As a result, second, we may live in times of crisis not in fear or anxiety but in prayerful trust and loving service of others. We take action on the basis of what will honour Christ and serve our neighbour; we resist temptations to selfishness or neglect of others.
It’s important to be as well informed as we can be. The website sydneyanglicans.net has a COVID-19 page full of information relevant to the conduct of ministries across the Diocese, including resources and advice about maintaining spiritual and physical wellbeing in this time of lockdown. Anglicare provides counselling services and can be contacted on 1300 651 728.
I’m grateful for the way in which local churches have responded creatively and cheerfully to the needs of members and their own communities, and for forbearance with the restrictions that have been placed on our ability to meet in person. God approves law abiding, and Scripture calls us to submit to our governing authorities and to pray for them as, “This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:3-4) .
Sovereign Lord, you are the hope and healer of your people and have promised a world where there is no more sickness or crying or death. By your death and resurrection, you have set your people free from the penalty of sin and death. We pray your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Please prosper the work of those who are administering the rollout of COVID vaccines. Please strengthen those who are treating the sick. Please comfort those who are mourning the loss of loved ones or living in fear of this disease.
Uphold those facing financial stress or social isolation and make us a generous and caring people.
Please give governing authorities wisdom in their management of this crisis, and give your people your peace beyond understanding, generous and wise hearts and a renewed trust in your sovereign goodness and glory.
Turn the hearts of many now experiencing fear and anxiety that they may find that peace that is the fruit of the death and resurrection of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.