An associate of mine had quoted conventional wisdom, “First your oxygen mask, then everyone else.” However, under her breath she quickly added, “I’d probably not do that actually, because I’d put the mask on the one I love, before myself.” Good, I thought, bravo! Jesus is talking.
I read an article this week titled Two Villages, Two Plagues, about a rural town called Eyam, in Great Britain. During the deadly Bubonic pandemic of the 17th century, their pastor convinced the villagers to self-quarantine rather than flee, which would have spread the disease. I quote from the article; “For a year they lived cut off from the world, their supplies left at a boundary stone at the village edge. Illness racked the population, killing an estimated two-thirds of the 300 souls who resided there, but sparing the surrounding communities.”
The story reminds me of Jesus, who self-quarantined himself on the cross, in order that we might have a choice to walk with dignity, inoculated from the ravages of the disease called sin. “No greater love than this, that one lays down his life for his friends.”
Let’s put ourselves in the pew that morning. Eyam’s trusted man of the cloth is appealing to us, to go the way of the cross. Are we willing to remain amidst disease, so that our neighbors might live? Where does strength come from to give that kind of message, and even more the wherewithal to stand ground and heed it? In one instance, a woman by the name of Mary Hadfield was the lone survivor in her family of twenty. One of her relatives had brought the flea-infested bolt of cloth back from London.
What did the pastor preach that morning to illicit such a unified rebellion against convention? In my imagination, I hear him say something like this:
“Jesus, on the cross. He sees you from where he hangs, see’s your life worth enough to die for. Next to the cross stands his mother, weeping, pleading for God to set him free, but the darkness of that hillside execution has cut him off from the Father, and there’s no turning back now. No prayer will be long enough, deep enough, urgent or passionate enough to change the mind of God. To change the love of God. For make no mistake, God is Jesus on the cross. That kind of sacrifice is rare in our times. We look out for our own, and so we must. But where does love demand sacrifice? Where does it require us to love our neighbors as ourselves, to love them more than our self? For that is the standard that Jesus set when he took his own life and draped it upon that wooden beam, putting a stake in the heart of death!
“Greater love has no man than this, that one lays down his life for his friends.” Everyone of you here today can leave this sanctuary, gather your things, and walk away. No one, not anyone of us would think any less of you. But heed this, you will be spreading death, not life. You will be knowingly bringing the sickness to neighbors, friends and loved ones. We who know Christ, do we not have a greater responsibility to be willing to lose what is not ours anyway? “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Our names are in the book. If we have but months left here, wouldn’t it be better than years, knowing that in the fateful hour, we did not follow love? Let us stand in one resolve, to be the people it was said of, they gave, so that others might live.”
That doesn’t sound to me like ‘put your mask on first.’
The other day I met Anthony outside our local market. He and his family were homeless, just arrived from Atlanta. He was asking for help. Something in his eyes had me running to an ATM for help. As I put social distancing aside, I drew up to him and put my arm around his shoulder, and we bowed together in prayer. A sacred moment, and one I won’t forget. I broke convention, but when God says to you have to.
It’s not the length of our years that matter so much, but the hours we spend creating space for others, so they can see no greater love, and hear His invitation, “come!”