Throughout human history, people have endured similar pandemics and plagues as our own COVID-19. One such pandemic raced through the Roman empire from 249 AD to 262 AD — with many historians believing that it stayed virulent much longer. This plague wreaked havoc throughout the Empire. Whole villages and towns were wiped out as people were infected and died. History tells us that people lived in such fear, that when loved ones began to show symptoms of the disease, they packed up and fled the town leaving the loved one behind. Others pushed their sick loved ones out into the streets as they did their dead, leaving them to fend for themselves all in hopes to avert the spread of this fatal disease.
However, one group of people stood out in stark contrast.
While vast numbers of people fled the hotspots of infection, Christians stayed behind and cared for the sick and dying. Many Christians sacrificed their own lives to bring comfort to the sick and companionship in the final moments of their lives. After the epidemic subsided, Dionysius, the Bishop of Alexandria wrote: “Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of the danger; they took charge of the sick, attending every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy.”
Historians point to this stunning demonstration of Christian love as a major contributor to the rapid spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire following the epidemic. Almost a year into our own pandemic, I wonder if Christians and churches will be thought of in the same way when this pandemic is under control and managed. I wonder if it will be said of us that when everyone else hid from this disease, hoarded supplies, and took care of themselves above all else, the Church of Jesus Christ rose to the occasion sacrificing their own comfort and convenience to minister and serve hurting people-sharing with them the love, comfort and healing grace of God.
I know caring for the world, a sick world, is mind boggling. The mission is so large and vast it can make each one of us seem insignificant and powerless to do anything. Psychology Today magazine quoted Desmond Tutu saying, “There is only one way to eat an elephant — one bite at a time.”
Each one of us can do our part to witness to others the saving grace of Jesus by making sure our neighbors are taken care of. There are those in the church I serve who are picking up groceries and medical supplies for people who are homebound because of their age or risk factors. We have people calling others on the phone to connect and see if there is anything, they might need that we can supply. We have humble “servants” and generous people supplying and working the many food banks and pantries scattered in our communities. I know of people who are going out of their way to encourage not only our first-line workers, but thanking the store clerks, teachers, school bus drivers and delivery people!
Addressing His followers, Jesus said, “You are the light of the world …let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16) Let’s follow the examples of courageous Christians before us to comfort, strengthen and encourage the people around us in these darkened days.
How do we Christians change our world? Our nation? Our community? Our neighborhood?” By letting the light of Jesus shine from our lives, sacrificially serving others and bringing hope to the world — one person at a time!
The Rev. William Thomas is pastor at Hereford United Methodist Church. He can be reached at email@example.com.