Swine Flu (H1N1) has taken the nation by storm. President Obama addressed the Swine Flu outbreak (click here for AP video), saying it should be a cause for concern, not alarm. The World Health Organization issued a pandemic alert this past week. Katie Couric tried to calm the masses here. For my local friends, here is a Q&A with the KC Star. Some of my neighbors are worried. I even came across this brilliant website. UMCOR has issued a release, and the Center for Disease Control has provided us reasons to take precaution but not to panic, even noting that places of worship can “take action to slow the spread of this outbreak.”
All of this is interesting. Swine Flu, a menacing strain of a common virus, has us afraid. We are accustomed to people around us being sick. We are not accustomed to hearing about Swine Flu. It sounds so scary. Could they not have called it Piggy Flu? That sounds a little more friendly. Until I remember that when Miss Piggy became angry she was a force to be reckoned with. Perhaps Piggy Flu would not be much better.
As I have considered the many reactions from the public, the most interesting has been that of religious communities–particularly Christian groups who gather to worship with their friends, neighbors, and strangers. During our gatherings we have close contact. We shake hands during a time of greeting, we pass our children off to volunteer workers. We might even break bread and drink from a common cup. With all of this contact, we may share germs. Or we may share a menacing strain of a flu virus that has dominated our media. We want to bless and not to curse, but we can’t help it if our cursing is an accidental transmission of a viral strain. We wouldn’t want to pass off swine flu. We definitely would not want to catch it.
I have heard so much about swine flu in the past few days. We have read about swine flu. We have seen people with surgical masks walking the streets, with frightened eyes cautiously distancing themselves from other human beings. After walking into the bank this morning I heard a mother discussing swine flu with a teller, launching into a story about shortages of hand sanitizer and the concern she had for her children. ”A friend of mine went to the store,” she said, “and the entire supply of hand sanitizer was sold out.”
As I’ve reflected on the recent panic over swine flu I cannot help but remember that Jesus was no stranger to disease. How did he act around illness? Did he ever have a cold?
Jesus dined with the sick. At one point the Messiah may have had the sniffles. The gospel writers didn’t tell us. He touched people who were unclean, and didn’t seem to care. He may have laid hands on those that had contagious diseases. He did not seem to be worried. He bravely shared the same air with other human beings who may or may not have had some type of communicable disease. He definitely shared the same air with those infected by various forms of social disease. He was creating a new type of culture.
If Jesus were walking the earth today, I would hope he would cast swine flu into a herd of pigs, who would then run themselves off a cliff to their doom. I would hope that the media would be there to cover it.
Jesus isn’t walking the border between Texas and Mexico (at least in the same way he walked the hillside in Galilee), but he is still around, and he’s still Lord over the Creation–even the Swine Flu. And among the many gifts Jesus left us, he provided a meal wherein we would gather with other people to remember his great sacrifice–his broken body and his spilled blood. He gave us a meal to celebrate the New Exodus. And he gave us a meal that would symbolize to the world that God’s grace was open to all people. It is too bad that communicable diseases like swine flu have some churches opting out of holy communion this weekend. Others are changing how they serve communion, not abstaining from the practice all together.
This may be wise. But I think our rhetoric should reflect the fact that we should “Fear not.” Church leaders would be better served to lead their people to stay home if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms, alert the church, and seek appropriate care. If people are well, they should come together, break bread, shake hands, give hugs, and celebrate with others in fellowship. If communion is a normal part of church practice it should be continued, without reservations, yet with the appropriate cautions voiced and sound counsel provided. The fact we would cancel for fear someone might transmit a sickness is, well, foolish. If you live in the world you face those risks everyday. Contracting sickness or disease is not pleasant and we should take proper precautions. But we should not take even a single stride towards quarantine.
This weekend I pray that churches would celebrate the Lord’s meal without fear, praying for those that are sick, proceeding with appropriate caution, and yielding their lives to the One who has the power to give health and take away sickness. Let us proclaim the hope that we have through the act of breaking bread and drinking from the cup.
I don’t want swine flu. But there is nothing sweeter than the Lord’s meal, and I don’t want to miss it because church leaders have watched too much cable news.
Let the risk be mine to take. I trust the Lord will watch over me in both sickness and in health.