Sermon Text: Is This The End?
Is this the end of the world?
A number of people have asked me that, in light of the coronavirus. I'm a priest and I know something about the Bible. So people have asked me. Is this the end of the world?
People have always been fascinated and troubled by this question. In Christian history, there are many examples of believers deciding the End Times have arrived. In the 1970s, when I was in college, there was a big revival of the idea in conservative Christian circles. But back in the middle of the 1800's, there was also a huge movement of people who said Christ was going to return any day.
Going back further, in the Middle Ages, especially due to the Black Plague, which killed fully one-third of the population of Europe, people thought the end had come. Back further yet, in the fourth century, there was a Christian movement called Montanism, which said the end was nigh.
And I have to tell you that if you read the letters of St. Paul in the New Testament, you can see that he was sure he himself would be alive to see the return of Christ and the end of the world.
All of these people have one thing in common: they were wrong. We are still here, in spite of the beliefs of end-time enthusiasts from St. Paul to Montanus to William Miller to Hal Lindsey.
If only they could have paid more attention to the words of Jesus. When Jesus spoke of the end of all things, he said, "Of that day or hour no one knows, not the angels in heaven, nor even the Son, but only the Father."
So I have my answer to the question, "Does the coronavirus indicate the end of the world?" No. The world is not coming to an end.
But the world is changing. We are in a new situation. And we hate change. All of science tells us that change is a permanent feature of our existence. But we don't like change. And that makes sense, because it can undermine our feelings of security and safety. But the world is changing, sorry to say. The situation is normal, in this abnormal way.
If you know some history, it can help. I already mentioned the pandemic of the 14th century which killed a third of Europe.
And what if you imagine people of my grandparents' generation? Let's say my Grandma was born in the year 1900.
When she turned 14, the first world war broke out and lasted until she was 18. 22 million people died.
And also when she was 18, the Spanish flu epidemic broke out and did not end until she turned 20...and 50 million died from it.
When Grandma was 29, the Great Depression began. The world economy collapsed and there was tremendous suffering.
Grandma turned 39, and the second World War began. It would not end until she turned 45, and 75 million people died. When Grandma turned 50, the Korean War broke out, and that one killed 4 million.
Until Grandma was 55, polio was a real fear each summer, as people got the disease and could die, or at least be paralyzed.
The Vietnam War followed, and Grandma knew about the terrible death toll, and also how it tore our nation apart.
Then there was the fear of nuclear weapons, which came close to ending the world a few times in recent history. Grandma lived through that, too. And those of us who were kids in the early 1960s worried that we would not live to the age of 30, because we thought there would be a nuclear war.
Now, I don't remind you of this to offer depression or despair. What this history does teach us is that danger and turbulent change are not unique to the present moment.
Is this the end of the world? No. We are just as much in God's hands now as we were in 1995, and 1975, and 1945, and 1918, and 1845, and the year 1300, and in the year 50.
I think we should be as resilient as our grandmas were.
Now, we do have one challenge our grandmas did not have. Today we are robbed of one of our greatest strengths. Because of this pandemic, we cannot gather in community. We cannot be together as a whole church. And that is a tremendous loss, a true grief. As Christians, or just as humans, we are strengthened by being together. We need community. And we cannot have it in our traditional ways right now.
We are lucky that we have the internet at this point in history. And we can still socialize in limited ways in person using appropriate physical distancing. And we still have prayer, and we still have faith.
We still have our story of the God who became one of us and knows how we feel. As our communion prayer puts it, God sent his only Son "to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us." God became human, knows how we feel, and suffers with us.
This epidemic has robbed us of our full community for a while. But it has not robbed us of what that community stands for: compassion, care, and hope.
We look forward to better days. By God's grace we will get there. So let's be Grandma Strong....strong like a grandmother born in 1900.