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March 16, 2020

Dear Zion Congregation,

It has been quite a weekend and week beginning! Just a few days ago we were going about our lives as normal and coronavirus was something we heard about on the news. It was a matter for shrugging shoulders or even jokes about the panic and hysteria into which some were descending. But now we are at home with our children looking ahead to days and even weeks of disrupted plans, changed schedules, and isolation. Now we are beginning Monday without the blessing of assembling in God’s house on Sunday. Now our lives are being impacted directly, whether we believe it is neces­sary or just an over-reaction.

I confess, as any school teacher who gets a snow day understands well, the release from yesterday’s duties did afford some relief on my part after a few busy months. Sitting in my study after a very quiet Sunday, however, I realize more the implications of extended social isola­tion. The Consistory has not yet made a decision about this coming Sunday, but it does not seem like the rea­sons for canceling yesterday will have faded away by this weekend. If anything, it seems like matters will get worse before they get better. I was made aware just this morning that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) is recommending no assemblies of more than fifty people for the next several weeks. It is only a recommendation at this point, but it says much about the direction things are going. As no teacher would welcome more than one or two snow days in a row, so no preacher (or teacher!) welcomes the prospect of such an extended hiatus from regular duty. I am already missing you just thinking about it.

This morning I was reading Psalm 9 in my personal devotions and the last verse stood out to me in light of current events. The verse belongs to a prayer of the psalmist for judgment on the enemies of God and His people. Certainly, as the pandemic passes through our region, Christian love compels us to be concerned for the health and well-being of all those around us. As Christians, we ought to be model citizens of our nation, and regarding the neighbor, we ought to “prevent his hurt as much as in us lies,” (Lord’s Day 40 on the 6th Commandment). But we must also keep in view the big picture of God’s judgment on ungodly men who reject His Son and despise His church. Psalm 9:20 says, “Put them in fear, O Lord: that the nations may know them­selves to be but men. Selah.”

If the coronavirus has done nothing else, it has re­minded the nations they are but men. They are flesh and blood, capable of getting infected with viruses sim­ply by walking through the invisible cloud of someone else’s sneeze. They are mortal, and like the grass of the field they will wither and die. It is this knowledge that they are but men which has thrown the world around us into such panic and fear. When your life is bound up with the material around you, nothing but panic re­mains when everything can be snatched away by noth­ing more than a tiny strand of chemicals called a virus.

We, too, are but men. We, too, can get infected by walking through a sneeze. We, too, will wither and die like the grass of the field. We, too, have been humbled by the rapidity of change as it has swept into our lives seemingly out of nowhere. But we have a wonderful op­portunity now to show we have no reason to fear. On the contrary, even in the midst of a pandemic we have every reason to trust our Father and even rejoice. Did not Jesus tell us that the same Father who created and controls the chemicals and progress of the coronavirus has numbered all the hairs on your head? Did not the Lord teach us not only that wars and rumors of wars would herald His coming, but also “famines, and pesti­lences, and earthquakes, in divers places” (Matt. 24:7)? Perhaps an economic downturn will come as a result of these events. Perhaps our schooling plans will have to be put on hold. Perhaps you will become infected with the virus yourself. Perhaps you will lose your life. It is easy to confess the gospel when the tree is green and life is easy. How about when the stories of pestilence in history books and the news come to haunt our dai­ly lives? The apostle triumphantly proclaims in words that seem almost unbelievable, “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Rom. 8:37).

What an amazing thing if panicked neighbors should see in you, instead of a mirror image of their hysteria, the calm repose of one whose trust is firmly in Jesus. What a beautiful witness if a colleague or friend should see in you, instead of a poster-child for mocking and Internet memes, a source of compassion, strength, and good will in a day that knows little of genuine leader­ship. We have an opportunity, people of God. The nations are being reminded they are but men. We are being reminded that our strength is not in men at all, but in the living God. Let us not squander the opportu­nity, but represent our Lord well.

May the blessing of the Lord’s house be upon you in these interesting times, even if the hand of providence has deemed it best to keep us shut up in our own houses temporarily. Though I cannot give you the benediction in our public worship service, I can point you to the benediction of Scripture. “Behold, bless ye the Lord, all ye servants of the Lord, which by night stand in the house of the Lord. Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the Lord. The Lord that made heaven and earth bless thee out of Zion” (Ps. 134).

Sincerely in the love of Jesus Christ,

Rev. Holstege