Good Friday

When I was a child, schools closed at noon on Good Friday, and the following week was called Easter Vacation. Not so anymore. However, Good Friday services are still held in many churches. Those services remember Jesus on the cross and his burial.

In 2004, Mel Gibson released his film The Passion of the Christ. Some people loved it, some were repulsed by it, some just hated it. The film was based upon the Roman Catholic “Stations of the Cross.” I only mention it here because this is the content of Good Friday.

Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus,” (John 19:14–16, ESV)

The sixth hour was noon.

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”” (Matthew 27:50–54, ESV)

There are many more aspects to the crucifixion. However, when Jesus cried out, “It is finished,” the work of the Lamb was done, the sacrifice for sin had been made. He was laid in the tomb as a sacrificed Lamb of God. He will be raised a Lion of a King.

There is an office in the church called the Tenebrae, meaning a service of darkness. The Tenebrae has been done on Holy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, or Good Friday, depending on the tradition. It consists of 15 candles in a triangular stand. During the service, there were originally 14 Psalms read and after each reading, one of the candles was to be extinguished. The fifteenth Psalm is Psalm 53. It was not read, though, and the fifteenth candle was not put out.

The last caudle, according to Benedict XIV., is hidden, not extinguished, to signify that death could not really obtain dominion over Christ, though it appeared to do. (William E. Addis and Thomas Arnold, A Catholic Dictionary, 1887, 404.)

This, therefore, reminds us of the hope we have, for nothing can conquer Christ. Even in the midst of the crucifixion, we cannot lose sight of the love of God which, even though necessitating the death of his Son, could not leave him in the grave.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4–5, ESV)

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Maundy Thursday

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”” (John 13:34–35, ESV)

On this evening, we remember the upper room supper with Jesus and his disciples. The ancient church did more than just remember. They lived the evening through their liturgy. The importance of Maundy Thursday is expressed by Robbert Webber:

The three great days from Maundy Thursday through the Great Paschal Vigil of Saturday night is the source of our spirituality. Our spiritual journey throughout the year springs from this week, the great paschal mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection, and it returns to this week to die with Christ and to be born anew in him. (Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004), 123–124.)

The word Maundy means commandment and refers to John 13:34. Surely the events on this night reflected the love Jesus commands. He washed his disciples’ feet. He instituted the Lord’s Supper. He gave his final instructions to his disciples. He prayed the great prayer recorded in John 17 which included all disciples of all ages.

Likewise, the things that happened to Jesus demonstrated his love and truth. He did not resist the betrayal of Judas. When he was arrested in the garden and Peter cut off the soldier’s ear, he put it back on the man and healed him. He went quietly with the Temple guard “like a sheep led to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7).

We are called to enter and experience all of these things on Maundy Thursday. The whole Church of Christ around the world joins together not only to remember but to participate.

It takes the worldwide community of God’s offspring back to the originating event and calls on us to enter once again into the meaning of it all. (Webber, Ancient-Future Time, 123.)

Ah, holy Jesus, how hast Thou offended,
That man to judge Thee hath in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by Thine own rejected,
O most afflicted.

Who was the guilty- Who brought this upon Thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone Thee.
‘Twas I, Lord, Jesus, I it was denied Thee!
I crucified Thee.

For me, kind Jesus, was Thine incarnation,
Thy mortal sorrow, and Thy life’s oblation;
Thy death of anguish and Thy bitter passion,
For my salvation.

Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered;
The slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered;
For our atonement, while he nothing heedeth,
God intercedeth.

Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay Thee,
I do adore Thee, and will ever pray Thee,
Think on Thy pity and Thy love unswerving,
Not my deserving.

Johann Heermann (1630)

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Holy Wednesday

Holy Week begins on Monday following Palm Sunday and ends with the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord on Easter Sunday morning. Most Christians recognize Holy Week by one or more of the days called the Paschal Triduum. They include Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. But few outside of Eastern Catholocism may know about Holy Wednesday or Spy Wednesday.

The names for this day come from either of the two events it remembers. First is the anointing of Jesus at Bethany. Second is the deal Judas Iscarius makes with the Chief Priests to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.” (Matthew 26:6–16, ESV)

Because of human nature, I sometimes think we spend too much time talking about Judas. We love scoundrels. However, today is holy because of the act of faith, hope, and love by one woman. I confess to being as pragmatically oriented as the disciples. Oh, how I need to learn the devotion of this woman.

Sometime in the first half of the Ninth Century, there was a Byzantine abbess and nun named Kassia. She was a devout woman of God who wrote poetry and music. One of her hymns is still used in the liturgy on Holy Wednesday in the Byzantine Church. I include it here because it helps me to reflect on the anointing of Jesus and allows me to worship him.

Troparion of Kassiani (Chanted during Holy Week on Great and Holy Wednesday)

Sensing Thy divinity, O Lord,
a woman of many sins,
takes it upon herself
to become a myrrh-bearer
and in deep mourning
brings before Thee fragrant oil
in anticipation of Thy burial; crying:
“Woe to me! What night falls on me,
what dark and moonless madness
of wild-desire, this lust for sin.
Take my spring of tears
Thou Who drawest water from the clouds,
bend to me, to the sighing of my heart,
Thou who bendedst down the heavens
in Thy secret Incarnation,
I will wash Thine immaculate feet with kisses
and wipe them dry with the locks of my hair;
those very feet whose sound Eve heard
at the dusk in Paradise and hid herself in terror.
Who shall count the multitude of my sins
or the depth of Thy judgment,
O Saviour of my soul?
Do not ignore thy handmaiden,
O Thou whose mercy is endless”.
               (https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Troparion accessed 04/08/2020, 10:58 am.)

 

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A New Covenant

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”” (Jeremiah 31:31–34, ESV)

Today is Palm Sunday. Many of us are either home alone or with our families making some attempt to worship our Lord and God, Jesus Christ. However, as Martin Luther penned, “The body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still, his kingdom is forever.” Thanks be to God!

My last post was a bit of a commentary on the two aspects of Palm Sunday. First is the joy of the coming of the King, and the second is what the king brings with him. That is the judgment on sin and the righteousness of God.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” (Romans 3:21–22, ESV)

In this lies the Gospel. The coming of the King was not for a political conquering of the world but for a spiritual conquering. I am not trying to imply that one is material and the other is not, for all things material were and are spiritual. It is their use that is for good or for evil, and that use centers on the hearts of mankind. Humanism is the dividing point for motivations that are anthropocentric are in conflict with those that are theocentric. More simply put, the goals of sinful man are self-glory as gods and not denial of self for the glory of God Almighty who created all humanity to be in his image.

Following our sin, God began his restoration project. His work among us has been and remains to be by Covenant. The coming of Christ is the fulcrum of restoration. Anna and Simion knew it. So did the angels, the shepherds, and the magi. The disciples learned to see it and became apostles to proclaim it to the whole world. There is no accident or coincidence that the Bible is the greatest book of all time and has bee preserved from the earliest days. And there is no accident or coincidence that all of history is divided into two parts which are divided by the Incarnation. Anno Domini or AD and Before Christ or BC are not from the Bible and came much later in history. However, they are the recognition that there was a major shift in history.

In the biblical sense, the division is the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. God came in the flesh to finish the Old Covenant and establish a new one. Jeremiah makes the clearest prophecy of the coming of a new covenant, but all of the Old Covenant was to prepare us for that which was to come in Christ. Jesus himself declared that he brought a New Covenant when he said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:20, ESV)

This week we shall observe the meeting with the disciples in the upper room, the prayer in the garden, the treason of Judas, the kangaroo court that judged the Messiah, the crucifixion of Christ, and his resurrection. We will see the tapestry in the Temple torn, the sky darkened, the earth shaken, and the burial of God. The old is “finished.”

And we shall celebrate the coming of the new. This coming will take time. Jesus will give final instructions and the Spirit to those he has called to be Apostles. The Holy Spirit will be poured out on all flesh. The Temple in Jerusalem will be destroyed so that not one stone will be left standing (Matthew 24:2). Then the old will give way to the new completely.

Let us all rejoice at the coming of the King who brought the New Covenant. Let us all embrace that Covenant of Christ and live new lives.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV)

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Blessed Is the King

This Sunday, April 5, 2020, is Palm Sunday. Many people celebrate this day as the beginning of Holy Week, the observance of Christ’s passion. It got its name from the gospels which record Christ entering Jerusalem on a young donkey colt. There were crowds placing palm branches on the ground as a sort of carpet upon which the colt walked. And the people were shouting words from Psalm 118 in acknowledgment of the Messiahship of Jesus.

As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”” (Luke 19:37–38, ESV)

It seems a stark contrast between the glory of Palm Sunday and the crucifixion which would occur in a few days. I want to suggest that the divergence is not as great as most of us generally think. For years attending church, and for years as a preacher, I have never really preached beyond the short story of Palm Sunday as presented in Matthew through John. However, I have come to believe that I stopped reading too soon.

It is appropriate to worship Christ as King and the words of Psalm 118 do speak of the Messiah. I am not sure what the people were expecting from the Messiah, but Luke gives us a clue when he writes, “for all the mighty works that they had seen…” If I were present on that day, I probably would have expected the Messiah to deliver us from all other nations who had oppressed us, especially the Romans.

But what happens next changes that for me.

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”” (Luke 19:41–44, ESV)

Jesus was not cheering. Jesus was weeping because he knew that the Hebrew nation was in for a shocking reality. Jesus did not come to deliver the people in the way they thought, or in the way they wanted. Jesus did not come as a politician or a warrior. He had repeatedly told his disciples that he came to be a servant. Take a moment to reflect on what service Jesus provided:

Payment for sin and reconciliation to God.

Cleansing from unrighteousness and granting justification.

Bringing peace and love back into a broken world.

Yes, Jesus did come to be the Messianic King to sit on the throne of David forever. However, the throne was not going to come easy. He was worthy because he was sinless. But as a lamb without spot or blemish, he was not fully effective until he died as the one great sacrifice offered to God.

The word passion makes us think of emotion. On this one day, we see Jesus in melancholy riding a donkey, weeping over the people God had loved but who had not loved him back, turning over tables cleaning the abusers from the temple, the house of prayer.

Palm Sunday is a day to rejoice the Jesus is the Christ. It is also a day to weep for all in humanity that refuses to acknowledge his as such. The deeper joy will come in a week. But for now, our hearts ache for the suffering of Jesus and the suffering of all those who do not know him or love him.

My next entry in this blog will reflect on the amazing world-wide shift that would occur from the death of the King to the death of a covenant.

 

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Our Shepherd

A Psalm of David.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Ps 23.

Almost everyone knows this psalm. The beauty of its poetry and imagery encompasses the heart like a blanket on a cold evening.  It is used by those who believe and those who hope. It is also used by many who are hoping for hope.

Because Psalm 23 is used so often, I have tended to avoid using it. I didn’t want to become cliché. Yet there is no other work in which I find such expression of the Lord’s daily watch and care for his sheep.

The psalm speaks for itself. That is why it is so popular. Unlike other passages of Scripture, even without deep theological analysis, you can still be comforted by its lines. So, I will not try to explain all of the images and cross-references and details. I present it that you may be reminded to use it. Meditate on it. Pray it. Let it become a song of hope in your heart.

May the Lord bless you.

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Covid-19 Questions, part 2

So far, I have presented Ignatius of Loyola’s Principles at the beginning of his Spiritual Exercises. The foundational principles are that humanity’s created purpose is to praise, reverence, and serve God and that the purpose of everything else in creation exists for us to use in the fulfillment of our end. However, when it comes to describing how this might look in life and practice, Ignatius uses the word indifferent.

“For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things…”

What does he mean? Doesn’t indifferent mean not to care? Aren’t we supposed to care about all of creation? The answer to that last question is a resounding, “Yes!” So what does he mean using the word indifferent?

Webster’s first definition for indifferent is, “marked by impartiality: UNBIASED.” (Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary., 2003.) Likewise is Noah Webster’s 1928 Dictionary, “Neutral; not inclined to one side, party or thing more than to another.” (Noah Webster, Noah Webster’s first edition of An American Dictionary of the English language., 2006.) Is this not what Ignatius means? He is not saying we should not care but we should not judge one thing against another in any other terms than the glory of God. Read how he explains it:

For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created. (Ignatius Spiritual Exercises, 19. Emphasis mine.).

This is the point. If I am devoted to the glory of God, and to Jesus Christ and his kingdom, then my condition, my circumstances, and my worldly desires should always be of a minor import compared to the purpose of my creation, of my calling in Christ, and of my praise, reverence, and worship to God.

I don’t know about you, but I find this a most difficult way to live. Truth be told, I fail all the time. However, there is great news. Jesus Christ has reconciled us to God and covered our sin with his blood. Moreover, following his Ascension to the Throne, he has sent his Spirit to enable us to follow Christ in all things.

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26, ESV)

And now, I have some questions about our current worldwide situation with the Corona Virus. I remind you that I have no absolute answers to my questions. They are questions of who is in charge of my life and what he desires of me. Each individual may or may not have to struggle as I do. I am called by God to love and serve him. Part of this service includes all of his Laws of justice and mercy. I do not want to harm my neighbor by spreading this virus. But some of what we are called by our world to do, such as “social distancing” seems to contradict other requirements. For example,

  1. How can the church worship without the main aspect of worship which is gathering?
  2. How can the church gather without human contact?
  3. Most obviously one of my answers was to start this blog. Yet I am deeply aware that a blog has nothing to do with communal worship. What else should I be doing?
  4. We are entering the holiest time of the year with the passion of Christ and his resurrection. How can the church celebrate when the church does not gather?
  5. If the church cannot celebrate the gospel through worship, what is our testimony to the world around us? Can God be truly glorified apart from our communal worship?

The easy answers to me are that God is glorified by our willingness to work with our communities to stop the spread of a disease. Yet this does not seem adequate to me. How did Christ deal with the sickness around him? How have his servants dealt with crisis and danger? How many saints went to the fire singing hymns of joy? Why did Martin Luther and his wife open their homes when the plague hit Wittenberg? Why did so many Christians continue to gather (yes, secretly) in Communist-ruled countries that wanted to quash all religions?

So, my personal predicament in all of this is fear of death over the fear of the Lord? God help me because my heart moves one way while my life lives another. May our God answer our prayers to end this pandemic. May he answer our prayers to love him above all else.

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Covid-19 Questions, part 1

I last wrote about our true comfort in all times of crisis, times of joy, and the times in between. I do believe that we can find comfort even in the present time of fear and uncertainty. Yet, I can’t help some nagging questions that lie in a corner of my mind.

Let me quote St. Ignatius of Loyola:

     Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.
And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.
From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.
For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created. (Saint Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, (New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1914), 19.)

This passage he calls Principle and Foundation. The principle is two-fold. First is to state the purpose of God in creating human beings. We are made to praise, reverence, and serve the Lord. This is close to the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s first question:

What is the chief end of man? Man’ s chief end is to glorify God, (1 Cor. 10:31, Rom. 11:36) and to enjoy him forever. (Ps. 73:25–28). (The Westminster Shorter Catechism: With Scripture Proofs, 3rd edition., (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).)

I know that most Protestants might feel uncomfortable with the statement “by this means to save his soul.” It does sound like works salvation. However, James speaks openly about works and faith.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14, ESV)

So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?” (James 2:17–20, ESV)

Thus, to say that the works of bringing praise, reverence, and service to God saves us is correct if taken that these things are works coming out of our faith.

The second principle states the purpose of everything else that God created which is to be used to accomplish the first principle. I don’t believe that all of creation is strictly utilitarian. However, the intricacy, beauty, diversity, and all other aspects of creation bring us pleasure. How much more God’s pleasure seeing humans created in his image appreciating all things. I believe that our delight in food, drink, music, nature, and more is to praise God. Our gratitude for all things does reverence God. Our service in caring for all of creation brings glory to God.

This two-fold foundation may be the hardest thing for humans born in sin, even by faith to live by. All of us are on a journey from faith to sanctification. The third paragraph of Ignatius’s foundation is a description of life fully committed to the principles stated. Read it again meditating on its meaning in the context of your life. The most difficult language to accept is he he says, “it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things.” For me, the word “indifferent” is where my mind tries to block out what Ignatius is saying using every excuse I can work up.

The problem is that I want to stop reading at the word and insert my interpretation of what Ignatius means without allowing him to tell me what it means. The mental process is like the person who while listening to a sermon hear some small part they don’t like and shut down and not listen anymore.

In my next post, I will address this call for indifference. I will attempt to change the negative connotation of the word to a positive one. Then I will ask the questions I have been thinking about. Let me assure you, my questions may or may not have an answer.

 

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Our Only Comfort

The first Lord’s Day of the Heidelberg Catechism reads as follows:

Question 1
What is thy only comfort in life and death?
That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him. (Historic Creeds and Confessions, electronic ed., (Oak Harbor: Lexham Press, 1997).

The catechism was written during and for the Dutch Reformation. Times were tough then. Challenges to the Roman Church were treated with severity. The words at the beginning of this great document designed as a preaching resource are true words of comfort. Dr. Zacharias Ursinus, the author and first commentator of the document began with an overview of the gospel. Can anyone say this is not the beginning of wisdom and comfort?

“The substance of this comfort consists in this that we are ingrafted into Christ by faith, that through him we are reconciled to, and beloved of God, that thus he may care for and save us eternally.” (Zacharias Ursinus and G. W. Williard, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, (Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company, 1888), 17).

I encourage you to meditate on these words. Most copies of the catechism have verses in the Bible footnoted, however, maybe you can search the Scriptures for support. Nevertheless, we are in a time of uncertainty and anxiety for many people. I personally don’t like the use of words like “unprecedented” to describe Covid-19. History shows this outbreak of a new virus to be a repetition of many events in the past. But this does not alter the seriousness of the present. Those of us who claim to find our comfort in knowing and being known by Jesus Christ ought to live like the comfort we have.

What might your life be like if the perfect love of God has cast out all your fears?

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