How do we know what Jesus might want us to do as Christians during this coronavirus pandemic?
Fortunately, we don't have to guess – because Jesus was once asked what the most important commandment in Scripture is. He replied: 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind.' And he went on: 'A second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.'
It's these two things we can be absolutely sure Jesus wants us to do.
But how? We may perhaps be very familiar with these words – possibly over-familiar, so that we have never really thought about what Jesus' words might mean in practice, let alone during a virus pandemic.
Before we get into some nitty-gritty specifics, it's important to remember that none of us do ever keep those two commandments perfectly. That's why we need Jesus. That's why we need a Saviour. That's why the cross is necessary.
So above all else, Jesus' words will drive us once again to our knees in repentance for the way we consistently flout both these commands – and then gratitude for the sacrificial death of Jesus which makes our forgiveness possible. It's then in response to that grace that we seek to put these words into action.
So, first of all, what does loving God with all our heart and soul and mind in the time of a Coronavirus look like? The words 'heart and soul and mind' are not given to leave us puzzling over our spiritual and physical anatomy wondering how all the different 'bits' fit together. They are given to indicate that this is a matter of total, 100 per cent commitment. So this is an encouragement to love God wholeheartedly at this time.
And in this context there are three specific things this might involve for us:
We want to be speaking with God every day, keeping going that daily rhythm of prayer and Bible reading, whatever that looks like for us. If you've never done this before, or let the pattern lapse – then grace, no condemnation! But now is the time to begin again or start for the first time. There are all sorts of useful Bible reading apps you can use to help you such as the Bible In One Year or the Explore notes. Loving God totally will always involve speaking with Him.
We will want to be honest with God in these times. Psalm 62v8 says: 'Trust in Him at all times O people – pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge.'
All those fears, anxieties, worries and doubts we have during this pandemic – we can bring those completely openly and honestly to God. If our words are incoherent, or even just take the form of sighs, that's fine – the Holy Spirit 'translates' even those things into prayers! (Romans 8v26-7)
3. The Lord's Day
As much as circumstances allow, we will want to keep (or start keeping) that regular pattern of one day in seven, usually Sunday, as the Lord's Day – because love for the Lord always brings with it love for his people. So we won't give into fear needlessly, but will keep on meeting with others every Sunday unless medical advice or government health restrictions make it impossible. And if that is the case, we can still get some spiritual input on Sunday – perhaps from somewhere like Clayton TV.
Then, secondly, what about that other commandment, to love our neighbours as ourselves? It would seem to be rather needed. After all, how many of those who have been panic-buying toilet rolls were doing so in order to give some to neighbours? So here are three practical things we can do:
1. Use neighbour care cards such as the one here to show practical Christian care for neighbours and others. We personalised it for our churches and handed out copies to all congregation members this last Sunday to use in their streets. It's great to have something like this to inspire neighbourly love in this way.
2. At 9.00pm every evening, pause and pray – for your neighbours, churches, country. Set a daily reminder on your phone, or stick a note on your fridge.
3. Get in touch with those in your church who are missing, perhaps because they are self-isolating.
As Christians, now is the time to 'let our light shine before others, that they may see our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven,' as Jesus puts it in the Sermon on the Mount. So how brightly will you shine?
David Baker is a former daily newspaper journalist now working as an Anglican minister @Baker_David_A