As the seasons begin to shift and summer quietly gives way to the fall, I admit I hoped we would be in a different place with the pandemic. Certainly, things are better. Some of us have felt more safe and secure, and the vaccines have blunted the impact of the pandemic on the most vulnerable. Still, we are not out of the woods yet, and there are many who have chosen not to get vaccinated or are not able to receive it for various reasons. Our work as Christians in this time challenge us to continue to think of neighbors and how we can best use our resources and wisdom to seek the healing and wholeness of our world.
Interestingly enough, the Old Testament, in many of its holiness codes, makes clear that God’s people have a responsibility to wear masks and socially isolate. Israel, in ancient times, was like many nations. Pandemics and infections were well known, even if not always understood. People who had contagious diseases were often placed on the outskirts of the community for a time until they improved or to prevent spread. Scholars thought about all of the questions raised by conditions like leprosy. Social isolating could be an act of love that saved the lives of vulnerable people or entire families, even if they had a cost to those asked to separate from their communities. Sometimes, priests wondered if diseases were brought about by sin and unfaithfulness. Others no doubt understood that the overall health of a community was vitally important.
In Leviticus 13:45-46, mask use, the covering of one’s face, and isolation is described in this way:
The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.
The Levitical codes are often focused on the healthy of a larger community, maintaining purity of body and religious practice. As a modern day reader, some of the codes are challenging and seem archaic if not cruel, but as usual, there are plenty of rules that resonate with our lives and how we continue to think about caring for our communities.
Jesus based his work on these, subverting or focusing on them not to show that they are wrong or that we should ignore rules to keep us safe. He crossed paths to touch and bless those on the edge of communities to show who God was and that God’s way is the health and wholeness of all, especially those considered untouchable. His was a ministry of caring, and early Christians continued caring for those who were being segregated by society for all kinds of reasons.
We pick up on this daily challenge even as we long for this pandemic to be open.
I am so proud of those of you who stay home for worship and have made that decision for your own safety and care for others. I am so proud of those of you who have chosen to be vaccinated and wear masks as a sign of your neighborly love. I am even proud of those of you who are seeking consultation from your doctor and trying to figure out what is best for you and your family. It’s not easy to love our neighbors in the midst of a pandemic, but thank goodness we have scripture to help challenge us and shape our call to action. Let’s continue to gather together and do that careful work as God’s people with our larger community in mind.
Remember, beginning on September 12, we start a new Narrative Lectionary series. The Narrative Lectionary is a series of scripture readings that guide us through June. We begin in Genesis, carry through books of history and prophets, and follow the Gospel of John beyond Easter. The series gives us a chance as a whole congregation to study together, ask questions, and deepen our faith.
You can find the entire schedule of scriptures here:
Our bible studies on Zoom will provide space to ask questions and go deeper on these passages. I hope you will register and gather with us.
Thank you again for time away for sabbatical this summer. I am excited about what God is doing in our midst and trust where God is leading us as a community of faith.
— Rev. Nathan Hill