Greetings, friends. I'm going to experiment with some specific online content for this time when we are being strongly encouraged to minimize our in-person interactions. Hopefully we'll get the hang of worship-by-Zoom and making little videos soon, but I'm starting out where I'm most comfortable: the old-fashioned written word. So please join me in hearing the words of Paul the Apostle from his letter to the Galatians (6:2):
Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Let us pray.
Gracious God, you give us each other to love and to serve; you set our neighbor before us so that we might find you through her; and you set your Word and Sacrament before us so that through you we might see our neighbor. Open our hearts to the burdens and needs of our neighbors and give us the strength to help bear them; through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.
Paul's words in his letter to the Galatians are a lovely expression of Christian life: bearing each other's burdens. It is so broad as to be impossible to complete--a burden can be anything, at any time--and yet it is perfectly specific. It is our brother or sister's burden, even if that brother or sister is not close at hand or is even unknown to us.
Burden-bearing is an important spiritual practice for many people, including me. For clergy, we are often "bearing" the sins of our people (through confession) or of the world (as revealed in the preaching of the Word)--not in the sense that we become guilty of them, but that we must hear, face, and take a kind of responsibility for them. In his treatise "On Whether One May Flee a Deadly Plague," Martin Luther includes pastors among those obligated to stay behind and care for the souls of the sick and dying, at the greatest risk to our own health. We worry about our people, even between pandemics. We think about challenges for the church or the community that are necessarily not front-and-center for almost anyone else.
But it's hardly just us. Parents are bearing burdens all the time. Family breadwinners. People in "serving" or "caring" professions. The fact is that a lot of us get our identity from what we do for others--what burdens we bear. If I am perfectly honest with myself, part of my negative reaction to the thought of restricting or even closing down church services is that I am not entirely sure who I even am if I am not serving in this particular capacity.
Reflect: Whose burdens do you bear? What roles or tasks in your life are important to your identity?
One challenge--and hardly the only or greatest--of this season will be to talk ourselves into doing less. We may feel that we can take risks on our own account. We may even be exhilarated by the thought of risking illness or even death for the sake of our duties. But the very hard truth is that our task, as Christians and as neighbors, is to keep ourselves safe for the sake of our neighbor. To be careless of one's own health may be foolish (please, please don't listen to people who say this is just the flu, or just like a cold; the symptoms often overlap but this virus is much more deadly) or it may be courageous. But in this case, by protecting ourselves we are also protecting the people we might otherwise infect, and whose resilience in the face of a disease may be less than we imagine ours to be.
Just a week ago I heard someone say "this is just the flu and it only kills 90 year olds." Unfortunately, this disease kills plenty of people who are younger. But what I wish I had asked this person is: "Do you not come into contact with any 90 year olds? Do their lives (or their suffering) not matter to you?" Not to mention the cascading danger that comes from hospitals being overfilled with acute cases, not all of which will be fatal but which will compromise care for many other diseases as well.
Bearing one another's burdens means, first and foremost, taking their own needs and welfare as seriously as we take our own. And sometimes that means letting something wait, or reaching out by phone, or taking additional precautions for ourselves that we do not want to take. It most definitely means not pushing through that minor dry cough or slight fever to do what we feel we are obligated to do.
It also means looking for ways to help people who are more greatly threatened or inconvenienced by these disruptions than we ourselves may be. Can we get groceries for a friend or neighbor who is (correctly!) advised to avoid public places? Can we share information when someone falls ill? Can we help with childcare during school closures? None of these things is risk-free, of course, and not everyone can or should do them. But bearing one another's burdens consists both in what we do and what we don't do.
It also helps to remember that the one thing you can always do is pray. That, too, is a real and legitimate way of bearing each other's burdens. Pray for those at the highest risk for this disease. Please, please pray for the medical and emergency professionals who are being exposed to it many times every day. Pray for everyone who is losing income or critically valuable social contact. And don't forget to pray for people to be prudent in the midst of dangers that are unfamiliar to almost all of us.
In you, O LORD, have I taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; *
Let us pray for:
those who care for them
those in prison, detention, or awaiting trial
those who will become ill
those who have none to pray for them
ourselves in our daily needs and responsibilities
the church, her ministers, and all the faithful
Lord, have mercy
Christ, have mercy
Lord, have mercy
Our father, who art in heaven...
God's Work. Our hands.