A MESSAGE FROM REV. J.C. AUSTIN: Love in the Time of Coronavirus

We are now in the season of Easter for the church year. In the Lectionary, the schedule of Scripture readings that covers most of the Bible in a three-year cycle, the season of Easter unsurprisingly focuses on stories of encountering Jesus after his resurrection each year. These are wonderful and powerful stories of reassurance about Christ’s victory over death, his continuing presence among his disciples, and his sending them into the world to make other disciples.

Yet as I was doing some sermon planning last week, I couldn’t help but think that the lectionary readings this year felt a bit like “business as usual” in a very unusual time for us as congregation, as a country, and even as the human race. Aside from the ongoing dangers of the pandemic itself and the challenges of remaining in quarantine, I have been watching with mounting concern in the last week or so as the national dialogue has devolved from raising legitimate questions and concerns about the economic fallout of stay-at-home orders, to holding public gatherings that have not simply been protests of conscience, but have included refusing to practice social distancing in the gatherings themselves, harassing frontline healthcare workers in their own protests, and even blocking traffic to keep ambulances from hospitals.

While we can differ in good conscience on many questions and methods regarding when and how to “re-open the economy,” and we can and should be debating them, there is no excuse or defense for such actions. For Christians, this is particularly clear, given that Jesus himself summarized all the Law and the Prophets by tying love for God inextricably to love for our neighbors, and Jesus’ last words to his disciples before the events we just remembered during Holy Week was that we should love one another just as he has loved us.

And so that, in turn, led me to the idea that in this season of Easter, when we are celebrating God’s greatest gift of love in Christ’s death and resurrection and recalling him calling his disciples to follow him into the world to live into his commandments, and when we are in a season of mounting division and conflict in our society, perhaps we should dig more deeply into what it really means to have Christ-like love, something that we often talk about but rarely explore in depth.

So for the next five weeks of Easter, I am going to be offering a sermon series I am calling “Love in the Time of Coronavirus,” playing off the title of the famous novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera.  That novel is all about the different dimensions and expressions of romantic love; we will be considering some of the dimensions and expressions of Christian love.

The most famous Scriptural meditation on Christian love is I Corinthians 13:1-13, which I commend to you to re-read, since you are likely familiar with it from attending weddings if nothing else! It references many of the theological themes of love that we will be exploring in the coming weeks: hope and perseverance, grief, gratitude, vulnerability, liberty, community, compassion.

This Sunday we will start with a sermon entitled, “Groaning with Hope,” as the issue of hope and perseverance seems like a particularly good place for us to start! I look forward to exploring these questions with you, and to being with you in worship on Sunday.

Grace and peace,