Christian Faith and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Oberammergau

The Thirty Year’s War fought between German Protestant states and the Holy Roman Emperor from 1618-1648 forever altered the balance of power in Europe, but the more immediate impact to the small villages and citizens throughout the countryside was the outbreak of the Bubonic Plague. Especially hard hit was the Bavarian village of Oberammergau where one in four residents died from the “black death.”

Legend has it that the surviving citizens met within the parish church to petition God to spare them if they promised to perform the Passion Play, enacting Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, every 10th year in perpetuity. After the pledge it is said that no one else in the village died.

The first performance of the play occurred in 1634 and the villagers have steadfastly maintained their promise ever since. And while Passion Plays are performed regularly throughout the world, Oberammergau is the only place where the play is the result of a sacred vow.

There have been a few disruptions in these performances, notably during both WWI and WWII when war related casualties resulted in insufficient male participants. However, missed dates have resulted in postponements, not cancellations. This year’s performance would have been the 42nd time the play has been staged, but the pandemic that is currently ravaging Germany and the world has led to a two year postponement. There are currently no COVID-19 cases in Oberammergau, but on Palm Sunday there were 91,000 infections with over 1,300 deaths throughout the country, and local infection was believed to be just a matter of time.

Oberammergau is adjusting to a new reality. Like churches throughout the world, all religious services have been cancelled. These closures are particularly difficult for the faithful who would normally be celebrating the entirety of Holy Week culminating with Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday, April 12th.

In times like these people desperately seek hope and redemption, and empty churches on the holiest day of the Christian calendar are worrisome. But faith is not defined by empty pews resulting from the need for social distancing. It is a belief in the divinity of Christ Jesus and his resurrection. However dire the circumstances, God is with us wherever we are. Celebrate Easter in your heart, and just as the villagers in Oberammergau will one day resume their pledge to perform the Passion Play, so will churches again be a place of fellowship and worship.

Have a Blessed Easter and stay safe. “This Too Shall Pass.”

Gratitude

white and orange pumpkins on table
Photo by Anna Tukhfatullina Food Photographer/Stylist on Pexels.com

Although Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday, the theme is universal… giving thanks for the many blessings in our lives. Often we’re so caught up in the hectic pace of our daily existence that we forget to take a moment to reflect on those gifts that God has bestowed upon us. It isn’t the material possessions that we own or the status we’ve achieved that matters most, though we seem to gauge life by wealth and celebrity. It is the love of family and friends that should be the measure of our worth, for without them all the money in the world cannot buy happiness.

Today, in the midst of celebrating the holiday with parades, football games, television specials and food, way too much food, pause long enough to express your gratitude in thought or prayer for the people around you and those that may be separated from you because of physical distance or even death but remain close in your hearts. The bonds that unite us are our greatest blessings regardless of our circumstance or situation.

Give Thanks. Happy Thanksgiving!

Strength, Hope, Courage, Faith, Love

American Cancer Society LogoThese five words are imprinted on a wristband that I’ve worn for almost two years as a former high school classmate and fellow brother-in-arms fought against the ravages of brain cancer. Colonel Emil “Mickey” Meis lost that fight July 8, 2019.

I have no words to adequately express my feelings at this moment. My heartfelt condolences go out to his family and they are certainly in my prayers. I also find myself reflecting on my own situation and the loss of other friends and family to cancer.

Everyone at some point in their life either as a patient, friend, relative, or caregiver has been affected by this devastating disease. I was diagnosed with Stage IV throat cancer in 2014. Five years later (after chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery) my cancer remains in remission, while so many others passed away – Don Kirkland, Rick Wilson, Alex Calderon, Al Billington, George Cichy, and now Mickey Meis. Their deaths will stay with me forever, and anyone reading this post can substitute or add names that reflect their own personal experiences. The pain and suffering are universal.

Everyone who died deserved better. They deserved to live out their lives cancer free experiencing all the joys and sorrow that life has to offer. Instead, in spite of courageous efforts to beat the odds, the disease took them away.

As a survivor, I’m left wondering… why them? My faith sustained me as did the well wishes and prayers of countless individuals in my corner, and I had excellent doctors and nurses at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Yet the same can be said for the victims listed above. They had comparable professional care and they were devout in their religious beliefs. So, how is it that I’m here pondering their loss?

I’m left with a lot of questions that I cannot answer. Faith is a mystery and medical research has yet to fully comprehend the disease or come up with a cure. This year alone, just in the United States, The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be 1,762,450 new cancer cases and 606,880 deaths.

I intend to continue wearing my wristband in memory of Mickey and all those who have died, in support of everyone currently undergoing treatment, and as an advocate for everyone just learning of their diagnosis. The words Strength, Hope, Courage, Faith and Love lift me up. Let them also be the bywords that sustain you and yours in this ongoing struggle.