May 2nd 2020

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Gearing up to ditch free-trade policy

EDITORIAL Post-covid19, create a national development bank

CANBERRA OBSERVED Keelty water report misses the point on water shortage

ENERGY Pandemic has exposed our overreliance on imports

CARDINAL PELL Locating the golden thread

CARDINAL PELL High Court practically shouts 'not guilty'

FAMILY Dismantling myths around family tax benefits

REFLECTION Covid19 and the Church past, present and future

OBITUARY R.I.P. Bruce Dawe: poet of the people

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Doctors of WHO let the covid19 dogs out

INDUSTRY POLICY The rise and fall of Australian manufacturing and covid19

ASIAN AFFAIRS Politics done by stealth in the UN: China and the WHO

HUMOUR Get them hug-dealers off the streets

MUSIC Farewell to an Aussie jazz legend: Don Burrows

LOCKDOWN TV CLASSIC Unique, unsurpassed: The Avengers





NATIONAL AFFAIRS Crucial to get Virgin Australia flying again

Books promotion page

Covid19 and the Church past, present and future

by Greg Bondar

News Weekly, May 2, 2020

On recent Sundays I have participated in my first online sermons.

As covid19 shuts down churches and keeps us indoors for the indefinite future, we may be wondering what to do as Christians living amid plague. How should we live when we are self-isolating?

No matter how severe this disease or how severe the economic fallout, the Church is here on earth for one reason, taught to us by Christ: “You are the light of the world.” Whenever the Church is affected by actions in the world, it can always ask: How can I be a light in this situation?

Christians are connected. They are not individual communities, floating about without anchor or connection to those around the world or those in their past. They stand on traditions built over the centuries to help themselves live their life in the world as light. And while none of us knows what this virus will do, we do know how God’s people have dealt with viruses before.

When we look back and study the Church amid plague, we see much of what we are beginning to see now: innovative ways to serve those in need. We can ask ourselves how to walk in those same footsteps and have more than just a secular response. Social distancing is an understandable approach to stop the virus’ spread, as is self-isolation. These solutions lay in the hands of medical and government officials; but a spiritual response belongs to the Church.

In the second century, during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, a plague that was most likely smallpox killed millions in the Roman Empire. A second plague took place a century later, from 250 to 260 AD. Historians believe it may have been measles. Both these plagues were characterised by Christian service and faith in the face of pagan fear.

The writings of St Cyprian of Carthage and St Dionysius of Alexandria, as well as Church historian Eusebius, testify to how the Church expected its members to respond to these diseases. We should not react in fear; we don’t retreat from the sick but serve them, even at our own peril; and we develop a spirit of fortitude and confidence in the providence of God.

They wrote how, while many pagans fled the cities in order to escape, Christians moved into the cities in order to serve those who were dying. They won many converts.

Today pastors and laypeople are finding creative ways to serve their neighbours while maintaining quarantine, as well as many doctors and nurses on the frontline of the battle against covid19 serving the most vulnerable at their own peril. We can take comfort that in every age God provides people with the capacity to serve and bring order out of chaos.

The Great Plague of Emperor Justinian afflicted the Roman Empire in the eastern Mediterranean from 540 to 542 AD. Justinian himself contracted the bacterial epidemic, though he survived. It is believed that 50 million people died, though some historians estimate 100 million.

One thing the Church did, in addition to serving the sick, was to pray en masse for deliverance: churches were open for prayer, vigils were held, and masses were said on behalf of the Church. Today we see churches around the Global Anglican Communion holding online prayer meetings and vigils. Protestants are holding prayer rallies online. Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches are doing the same. Perhaps there has never been a global movement of prayer as widespread and dedicated as covid19 has caused.

Another encouragement to prayer comes from the Great Plague of Rome, during St Gregory the Great’s reign as Pope. He was the papal ambassador to Constantinople until the year 590 AD, when he was elected Bishop of Rome after the death of his predecessor due to the plague.

One of his first acts was to organise a public procession in response to the crisis. He divided the procession into seven groups: the clergy in one, monks in another, nuns in a third, married men in a fourth, married women in a fifth, widows in a sixth, and children, along with the poor, in the seventh group – interesting, to say the least. They processed through Rome chanting, singing, praying, and following the cross as they asked the Lord to save the city.

They converged on the Basilica of St Mary Major and continued their prayer vigil until a large group of worshippers claimed to share a vision of the Archangel Michael. He appeared over the city and sheathed his sword. After this the plague was said to stop and to this day a statue of Michael sheathing his sword stands in Rome as a commemoration of this event.

The Church saw in this a response to prayer, calling on the name of Jesus, asking for the forgiveness of sins, and asking that the discipline of God would cease, and the spiritual enemies of the Church be restrained.

Like our forefathers in the faith, we are seeing church members serving older neighbours who may be isolated, delivering food, phoning the lonely in their communities, and reconnecting with old friends for encouragement with the well-known phrase, “Are you OK?”

In these moments, we are seeing the best of our people partnering with God to keep the Kingdom moving forward, even in uncertain times. We are joining with our spiritual fathers and mothers by being a light, pushing back the darkness one little act, one kind word, one prayer at a time.

To paraphrase St Paul in his Letter to the Romans, I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, including covid19, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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