It was eerie, sitting in my church’s ‘courtyard’, six feet away from my neighbors in all directions, using our older, smaller altar, refraining from hymnal use, singing along to the piano rather than our majestic pipe organ. Everything was so different. As we left the small service, we were asked to help disinfect our chairs while we were given instructions about signing up for future services to keep our attendance numbers below 50, per the executive order of Kansas Governor Laura Kelly.
But I was struck with incredible comfort and confidence as we sang our final hymn. For some of you, it might be a familiar one. Though it comes from the 17th century it doesn’t need any dusting off, not only because it was written by one of the most acclaimed hymn writers in Lutheran history, but also because it is so relevant for every part of the Christian experience. If there were ever a time to sing such a hymn as this, now is that time.
The first verse reads:
Why should cross and trial grieve me?
Christ is near With His cheer;
Never will He leave me.
Who can rob me of the heaven
That God’s Son For my own
To my faith hath given?
One of the best-loved and most comforting songs in all hymnody, Paul Gerhardt gets to the heart of fear, suffering, despair, sickness, sadness, grief, and death in the Christian life, and returns with the eternal comfort of our salvation in Jesus Christ.
I know it’s easy to say don’t be afraid. I know it’s easy to quote Scripture and talk about how our faith is for such a time as this. But functionally, day to day, are we really living as if we believe it? I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to walk with grace since my last trip to the grocery store. The shelves were nearly empty, the lines were long, and we were definitely not standing six feet apart as we pushed our way to the registers. Everyone was clearly on edge.
And what about walking with grace on the internet? I have made the terrible mistake of following Twitter in the past few weeks to keep up with the COVID-19 updates. Whether it’s Twitter debates, conflicting news sources, name calling, or the general disarray of tweets and opinions floating around, it’s clear that most of the world is not walking particularly graciously in this time of crisis.
This made me think, perhaps right now it’s not about how we respond. Perhaps it’s about how we rest. In previous articles I have written about the different meanings of the phrase “To Walk with Grace.” I tend to focus a lot on the third understanding of this phrase, about living graciously for others in forgiveness and Christian charity. But perhaps in times of crisis, I think it’s time to focus on the second understanding: “To walk gracefully, with a peace that can only come from knowing your salvation is secure.”
I wonder this: why do we pray for our daily bread if we don’t really believe in God’s providence? Why do we pray for his will to be done if we have no intention of trusting in it? Why do we talk about bringing out troubles to God, but actually bring our troubles to Twitter and Facebook instead? I suppose it’s an age-old question of why it is so much easier to say we believe than to actually believe. Oh we of little faith.
To be clear, the call to “fear not” does not mean we aren’t supposed to have honest conversations about budgets or our financial future. It doesn’t mean that we’re supposed to boldly hug whatever sneezing stranger may cross our path. It doesn’t mean we aren’t supposed to be careful. It means we aren’t supposed to despair. It means we’re supposed to be able to realize that this, too, shall pass. It means we’re supposed to live with confidence in God’s generosity and guidance, and know that despite the troubles of this world our salvation is secure and Christ reigns.
Perhaps, in times of uncertainty, struggle, anxiety, and perhaps even suffering, it is time to make a serious evaluation of our own faith. What are you afraid of? Why? This self-examination is the law. That’s where we find ourselves. But the Gospel? That’s the best part yet. That is where we find God, amidst all the chaos and Coronavirus. Not only does Christ forgive you for doubting him and living in fear, but he goes a step further and takes your fears and burdens on himself. Take comfort, dear friends in Christ. “Christ is near, with his cheer. He will never leave me.”