“The Quarantine of Lent” (John 9:1-3; Hebrews 12:2; Psalm 27:5)

Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 22, 2020

“The Quarantine of Lent” (John 9:1-3; Hebrews 12:2; Psalm 27:5)

“Quarantine”: That’s a word we’re hearing a lot of these days. It means “a period of forced isolation,” and it is done in the interest of the public health. But do you know the origin of the term “quarantine”? It comes from the practice in medieval Italy of keeping ships suspected of carrying disease–of keeping those ships in isolation for a period of forty days. You see, the term “quarantina” literally means “forty days.”

Well, the church has its own period of forty days, during which we are to self-isolate, in a way, in the interest of our spiritual health. This time, this season of the church year, is called Lent, and we’re in it right now. Lent is a penitential season, in which we are to inspect ourselves, to see the symptoms of the underlying deadly disease we all are carrying–namely, sin–to repent of our sins, and to turn to God for forgiveness and renewed life.

It just so happens that this year the forty days of Lent coincide almost exactly with our national health crisis. Lent began at the end of February, which is just about the time concern over the coronavirus began to grow. We’re in the midst of the pandemic panic right now. Businesses are shutting down. Churches are canceling services. Governors are issuing “shelter in place” orders. People are “self-isolating” and doing “social distancing.” People are scared, both of the virus itself and of the impact it’s having on the economy–and your own personal economy.

Dear friends, while this pandemic is real, and people’s fears over it are real, today I want to invite you to use these forty days of Lent to good purpose. See this time as a quarantine, a time in which you come to grips with your sins and your fears, a time to trust in God to forgive and sustain you, and a time to look with hope to your long-range–yea, eternal–future. And so our theme this morning: “The Quarantine of Lent.”

The quarantine of Lent: A time of repentance, trust, and hope. First, it is a time of repentance. A time to recognize your sins, to come to grips with them. How have I broken God’s commandments? How have I failed to keep them? The quarantine of Lent is a time to realize that these sins are symptoms of your underlying disease of sinfulness, that is, your desire to be your own God and to not listen to what the one true God has to say to you. Have I loved God with my whole heart? No. Have I loved my neighbor as much as I love myself? No. I am a sinner. And as such, I deserve God’s wrath and punishment.

Now let’s have a word about God’s wrath and punishment. In the Holy Gospel for today, from John 9, we have the story of the man born blind. The disciples see this guy, and they ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” But Jesus has to correct them. He says that this man’s blindness is not the direct result of either his or his parent’s sin. It doesn’t work like that. You can’t draw a necessary one-to-one correlation between a given person’s sickness or misfortune and this or that particular sin. That was the error of Job’s friends. They thought Job was having all this misfortune because of some unconfessed sin. But that was not the case. Same thing here in John 9. You can’t say that the guy was born blind because of any particular sin.

Jesus encountered this kind of thinking elsewhere. In Luke 13, people tell Jesus about some Galileans who were struck down by Pilate’s soldiers while they were at the temple. And Jesus has to tell them: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” In other words, you and I cannot say that because some disaster befalls some people, therefore God is punishing them for their sins. We can’t say that. But the fact that death and disaster and disease can befall anyone at any time, therefore we should repent of our own sins, because we indeed are sinners deserving death.

Now let’s bring that home to the current situation. The coronavirus is affecting millions and millions of people around the world, in some places more severely, other places less severely. But we can’t say that the people in China or Italy or the state of Washington are worse sinners than we in Missouri. No, we are all sinners. We all have earned God’s wrath and judgment. And now we are confronted with the possibility of sudden, unexpected death. So let’s use this wake-up call to examine our own lives and repent of our sins–our specific sins; name them–and mourn our underlying sinful condition. The quarantine of Lent is a good time for this.

It is a time of repentance. But even more than that, it is a time of trust. This is time to turn to God in faith, trusting his goodness to forgive us and to sustain us. God will forgive us of our sins, dear brothers and sisters. God has given his own Son, Jesus Christ, to win that forgiveness for us. Christ went to the cross to do just that. The Gradual for Lent quotes Hebrews 12 and says, “O come, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” And so we turn to Christ’s suffering and death on the cross as the cause of our forgiveness, as the cure for our disease of sin. Jesus took the punishment we deserve. He, the very Son of God, suffered the righteous wrath of God in our place. He died, so that we will live forever. And because he lives, we will live also.

If God loves us so much as to give his only Son for us, will he not also watch over us and take care of us during this time of uncertainty and distress and fear? He certainly will! Take comfort in that, dear friends! Keep trusting in God and his goodness. He loves you. He has not abandoned you. He will sustain you through this crisis. Trust in him. The Lord is our refuge and our strength! We are children of the heavenly Father. He made us his children in Holy Baptism. Our Father knows us and loves us. He feeds the birds of the air. He clothes the flowers of the field. God will take care of you. “Call upon me in the day of trouble,” the Lord says. “I will deliver you, and you will glorify me.” “For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble,” the psalmist says. Yes, shelter in place indeed!

The quarantine of Lent is a time of repentance. It is a time of trust. And third, it is a time of hope. We are looking forward to that great Eastertide when the isolation will be lifted. God will gather us together in groupings of more than ten, more than fifty–yes, tens of thousands upon thousands, a great multitude that no one can number, from every nation, tribe, people, and language. All of us standing before the throne and before the Lamb, singing God’s praises. That great gettin’-up morning! This is our hope. This is our inheritance, guaranteed by the blood of Christ. Health concerns? Jesus won the ultimate healing for you in the resurrection of the body. Economic uncertainties? You have the riches of heaven as your inheritance.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the church has made it through tougher times than this. God was with his people when they were in exile in Babylon. Think of Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The Lord was with his people when Christians were being lit up as torches in Nero’s backyard. The Lord was with his people when Europe was suffering the Black Plague and the Thirty Years’ War.

And the Lord was with his people during the cholera epidemic of 1849. That summer over 10% of the population of St. Louis died within a few months. C. F. W. Walther, the founder of our Missouri Synod, was a pastor in St. Louis at that time, and his church records show dozens and dozens of deaths from the cholera epidemic that summer. The first casualty in his congregation was a young girl. “A hope-filled flower in the garden of our congregation,” Walther described her, “she lies lifeless here before us.” In his funeral sermon, Pastor Walther made two main points about what God was telling his church through this, and I think they apply to what the church is facing today during this epidemic.

First: “What does God want to tell us by this? Oh, certainly, just this: O you members of this congregation, whether you are young or old, strong or weak, grey-haired or child, be prepared! ‘The world that smiled when morn was breaking, may change for me ’ere close of day; for while on earth my home I’m making, death’s threat ne’er is far away.’ . . . Let us humble ourselves before the Lord as the kind of people who are in the same guilt as all sinners.”

Second, Walther continues: “Yet, my precious, as urgently as this first casualty of this ravaging epidemic demands that our congregation not consider itself safe in the presence of death, so God is also urgently admonishing us by it, that none of us despair in our sins, but that each of us should hasten to faithfully turn to Jesus. . . . What does God want to say to us by this? He is calling to us: You precious, redeemed souls, who remember your burden of sin and death, do not despair! I will be your God, who will help you, and a Lord of Lords, who also redeems you from death. I have redeemed you; you are mine. I have called you by name in your baptism. Here is Jesus, my dear Son, to whom you flee in faith. Cling to him. In him you are sheltered from death, hell, and damnation.”

Shelter in place indeed! The Lord is our refuge and our strength! Shelter in him, for he will hide you in his shelter in the day of trouble.

Brothers and sisters, take advantage of this quarantine of Lent! It is a time of repentance. It is a time of trust. And it is a time of hope. Shelter in place.

Published in: on March 22, 2020 at 2:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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