The Rev. Benton Heisler looks to the Easter promise and prays for the healing of our sin-sick souls in the midst of the COVID-19 health and economic crises.
Director of Connectional Ministry, Michigan Conference
Be strong and courageous, and do not be afraid! Four times in 18 verses, in the first chapter of Joshua, this verse is recorded as being spoken by God to the people of Israel. They were about to cross over into the promised land after Moses has died. Our daughters memorized the verse by singing a song in Vacation Bible School one summer more than 25 years ago.
Once, while riding bikes together along the shoulder of a road to a campground, I kept hearing a tiny voice singing. It was our youngest daughter Hannah. Each pounding of the pedal matched the pace of the song and put a determination in her heart …” Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid!”
There would be ample opportunities to claim this verse as a promise during hospital and ER visits with long waits of uncertainty. I remember one of those long, uncertain life-threatening waits. I was sitting alone in a basement x-ray lab, knowing that whatever the answer was from the tests, it was going to radically alter the next few months of this young teenager’s hopes and dreams.
Thumbing through the scriptures, I just kept jotting down the promises. I looked up verses I had memorized, and I came across new treasures of God’s providential love and care. I made a pdf of the paper they were written on and often call upon it as a reference. Many of those verses became the basis of the 28 Day Prayer Calendar we recently published during this COVID-19 crises.
Reading those verses gave me hope, and in God’s time and in God’s way, there was healing both for her physically and for me, emotionally and spiritually.
As a Church and a nation, we are desperately crying out for hope and healing during this pandemic, so radically altering our lives. Those gifts of hope and healing are rooted in our history and are a promise for our future.
Many folks have been looking back in history for comparisons. Some have written about the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 as one parallel. Some have likened this crisis to the attack on Pearl Harbor or 9/11, two comparisons with which I strongly disagree. Nobody chose to do this. No particular leadership declared war on the world.
Looking back in history at unemployment, inflation, and loan interest charts, you discover rates far worse than we see at the moment: 25% were unemployed in the Depression of the 1930s, deflation reached 10%. In the 1970s, inflation was in the low teens, interest on loans was 8-12%, and reached a high of 18.45% in 1981 as inflation in 1980 raged between 12-14%.
My parents were ten years old in 1930. They lived through the Depression. The lessons they and their friends learned were instilled in their children. These are not unlike lessons we see our nation rediscover during this crisis.
First and foremost, is the dependence on God. We are to be strong and courageous in the face of death, in deep grief, in moments of severe exhaustion as a family is cloistered in too small a space with too few resources, or amid isolation, cut off from the family and friends that give life and meaning to each day. Our health care workers, first responders, truckers, pharmacists, and grocers all face many challenges amid fatigue and the need for personal protection from an invisible threat. Those who have lost employment face financial challenges and the emotional struggle of a loss of meaningful work and know a personal depth of what strength and courage look like in such times.
Second, after trusting in God, we trust in one another. Time and again, you see the signs and hear the words, “We are going to get through this TOGETHER.”
Every day I see examples of that unity! Bishop Bard has offered regular communications of hope and insights. A special Easter letter has been mailed to persons without internet service, and an Easter Worship has been prepared and is available for viewing. Your Conference staff have rallied to assist congregations with webinars, critical information, and education to help adapt to a new reality, however long or short it may last. Financial relief has been provided in the form of suspending the need to pay for pension benefits. Wise stewardship and investments have allowed for these costs to be covered by previous earnings, despite a fall in the market.
All around our city and neighborhood, I see examples of that unity. Families are walking and playing together as loving units. Bike riders constantly flow past our window. A car stops and pedestrians stand a safe distance away as these friends simply talk. The phone rings and a voice simply says, “Just checking to be sure you are ok.”
We all seem to have “slowed” in some healthy ways. A leader in a Zoom meeting recently offered some profound words from a writer unknown to me. “Hurry is an unpleasant presence. Hurry is living in both the past and the future, instead of being focused in the present.”
The historic hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness, claims one of those critical promises, “All I have needed, thy hand hath provided. Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine with 10,000 beside.”
So here it is Holy Week. A week containing the triumph of Palm Sunday, the passion of a Last Supper, the tragedy of a Crucifixion, and then the celebration of a Resurrection! “Death has lost it sting.”
The history of the empty tomb gives hope to our hearts and healing to our sin-sick souls. “Be strong and courageous, and do not be afraid!”
~ “If you make my Word your home, you will indeed be my disciples. You will know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8:13 New Jerusalem Bible.)” Each article I write for this column is based in the guidance of a Scripture passage. I pray that these reflections, stories, and information will assist you in your own witness and service as a Disciple of Jesus Christ.