He said to me, “It is finished. I AM the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.” - Revelation 21:6
How does this end? It’s a good question to ask before undertaking a task, what is the “end game”? How are we to know when something is finished? As we continue our look at the ending of this current pandemic (and how plagues have ended in the past), it might be helpful to review last week’s blog. We looked at the medical ending - when there are no more cases or very few and the pathogen has finished sickening and killing the bulk of the population. We looked at the political ending, when the governing authorities say it is “safe” (relatively speaking) to go to the beach, get a haircut, go to church, and otherwise reopen stores and resume life in a new normal. But there is a third way, and this way is by far the most common. This is the popular ending - when the populace decides to come out of hiding.
Throughout history, most plagues struck quickly and were resolved quickly - usually within a month. In that time either you got sick or you didn’t. Those in your village either recovered or died. But the plague (of whatever pathogen caused it) would not linger more than a month or so before moving to the next village. At some point, the residents of that village would do what we call a risk / benefits analysis and decide that the risk of contracting the plague was less than the benefit of resuming work or other activities. For example; say you were living in England in 1349 and the bubonic plague came to your little village. You made your ring of roses, and filled your pockets with pansies (posies), you have no “achoo’s” or other symptoms of the plague, and your crops are awaiting harvest in the fields. If you leave the safety of your home, you might catch the plague, but if you stay quarantined from the world your crops will rot in the fields and you’ll have nothing to feed yourself with. There is a small window for making hay, bringing in the sheaves, etc. So do you go out and harvest (go back to work) or do you stay home and maybe starve? Most would probably go back to their vocation as the risks of the plague are less than the risks of starvation or economic ruin by resuming one’s vocation.
The same is happening in our world with all the “reopen ____” protests. Even though the medical advice says to stay home and the government has not authorized reopening, many are doing it anyway. In their minds, the risks of staying at home and not working are greater than the risk that they would catch Covid-19 or the risk that if they did get the virus that it would seriously harm them (less than 30% need medical intervention). We see this with worship as well. This weekend (5/31) as the Church celebrates the Feast of Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, some 1,300 congregations in California have signed a petition stating that they will be open for services (following safety protocols as directed) - whether the governor lifts the stay-at-home orders or not. These 1,300 congregations have come to the conclusion that the harm caused by continued lack of worship is greater than either the legal harm from the state (fines, etc.) or harm to the health of their members and communities (why safety practices are in effect). As of yesterday (5/25) the governor yielded to the will of the people and lifted the ban on church gatherings - so long as social distancing and other safety protocols were met.
This is the traditional way a pandemic comes to an end. SARS-CoV2(a,b,&d) might be with us for years to come; just like influenza virus and pneumococcal bacteria and a host of other microscopic pathogens. Eventually we learn to mitigate the risks these microbes impose and go about our lives again - with some changes as we’ve already seen. Eventually the “non-essential businesses” will become essential, as they would already have closed for good if they served no needs; I’m thinking haircuts at the moment. These businesses will reopen with or without Governor Murphy’s say so. They will resume providing the goods and services they do with or without the CDC declaring an “end” to this pandemic. We see this in the “phased re openings” and in news stories about businesses defying lock down orders and serving their customers. We saw this at the outset of stay at home orders where liquor stores and abortion clinics were deemed “essential” even if churches and delis were not. Throughout history it has been the will of the people crying out “Enough!” that makes governments change their tune and the populace determining just how much risk they are willing to take.
As President Trump last week declared that houses of worship are essential for a healthy society and the CDC itself has estimated some 75,000 “deaths of despair” (suicide, overdoses, alcohol poisonings) caused by a 65+ day lock down, it seems that worship as a congregation will resume shortly. I have not yet heard whether Gov. Murphy shares the President’s opinion that churches are essential and it is up to the one who issued Executive Order 107 to rescind said order. Some states have placed limits on executive orders (30 or 60 days then they automatically expire). So while we have not heard a date when worship is allowable (i.e. no fines / jail time for worshiping as E.O. 107 dictates), there is some talk of the next phase of relaxation of restrictions coming June 5th. We can only wait and see when we will be able to worship without penalty once more and take such steps as to ensure the health and well being of both our worshipers and our community is preserved. We will look at how we can worship AND stay safe in next week’s blog.
As far as pandemics go, this is not the end. It’s not even the beginning of the end. It is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. We now need to figure out how we are to live with this new corona virus strain and lessen the risks of infection. It will be a new normal in our schools, churches, businesses, places of recreation, and all other aspects of life. We will not be going back to the way things were in February.
But even with all these changes, we keep in mind Him who is both the Beginning and the Ending of all things. The Alpha and Omega, our Lord, Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We place our hope and our trust in His almighty hand, knowing that He loves us and will never forsake us no matter what calamity might befall. To Him be glory and praise forever and ever. Amen.
Pastor Brian Handrich graduated from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis in 1997. He first served a dual parish in northeast Nebraska before coming to Flemington, New Jersey in 2002.