Learning to Respond to COVID-19 from Early Christians: Eusebius from his Ecclesiastical History

The Chronicles of Gilles Li Muisis plague

One of the most distinctive aspects of the early Christians was the manner in which they responded to troubles themselves while also reaching out to others. As we prepare for what looks to be ongoing results of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the moment for Christians of today to step forward by faith in relation to the needs not only of our Christian brothers and sisters, but to the community around us.

Eusebius of Caesarea, known as the father of church history, details the devastating effects of a plague which hit Caesarea in the early fourth-century, but also the manner in which the early Christians stepped forward in that time. May we be found faithful like them.

Countless numbers died in the cities and even more in the villages and countryside. Rural registers that were once full of names now were all but obliterated, since lack of food and disease destroyed almost the entire population at the same time. Some bartered their most precious possessions for the smallest scrap of food from those better supplied, while others sold their things little by little until they were reduced to desperation. Still others ruined their health and died from chewing wisps of hay and rashly eating poisonous herbs. As for the women, some ladies of the urban aristocracy were forced to beg shamelessly in the marketplaces, their embarrassment and their clothing revealed a noble upbringing.

Some shriveled like ghosts of the departed, staggered about… until they fell down, and as they lay in the middle of the streets they would beg for a small scrap of bread and, with their last gasp, cry out that they were hungry—anything more than this anguished cry was beyond them. The wealthier classes, astonished at the mass of beggars they were helping, changed to a hard and merciless attitude, since they assumed that before long they would be no better off. In the middle of the city squares and narrow lanes, naked bodies lay scattered about unburied for days on end—a most pitiful spectacle. Some were eaten by dogs, for which reason the living began killing dogs, for fear they might go mad and start devouring people.

No less horrible was the plague that infected every house, especially those that had survived the famine. The affluent, rulers, governors, and numerous officials, as if intentionally left by the famine for the plague, suffered a sudden bitter death. Moaning was heard everywhere, and funeral processions were seen in every lane, square, and street, with the usual flute playing and breast-beating. Death waging war with the two weapons of plague and famine, quickly devoured whole families, so that two or three bodies might be removed for burial in a single funeral procession.

In this awful adversity they alone [the Christian] gave practical proof of their sympathy and humanity. All day long some of them tended to the dying and to their burial, countless numbers with no one to care for them. Others gathered together from all parts of the city a multitude of those withered from famine and distributed bread to them all, so that their deeds were on everyone’s lips, and they glorified the God of the Christians. Such actions convinced them that they alone were pious and truly reverent to God.

After all this, God, the great, heavenly Champion of the Christians, having displayed his wrath to all men in return for their brutal assaults against us, restored his providence to us again and caused the light of peace to shine on us out of black darkness, as it were, making it clear to all that God himself had constantly been overseeing our affairs. Sometimes he scourged his people and in due time corrected them through trials, but after enough chastening, he showed mercy and kindness to those who had hope in him.

[From Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History, Book IX, Chapter 8]

A Prayer inspired by the prophet Haggai

LORD of hosts,
Almighty King of all the earth,
You are worthy of all our praise
and deserve the best of what we have to offer.

Help us to give careful thought to our ways,
that we may not be found wanting
in presenting all of who we are
and all of what we have to You.

In Haggai’s day, You called the people to rebuild Your house,
strengthening them to accomplish the task by Your grace.
In our day, help us to hear Your calling for the church,
and strengthen us to accomplish that calling by Your grace.

May no opposition overcome us
and no circumstances dissuade us
from giving ourselves fully to You
and Your mission upon earth.

All this we pray, through Jesus Christ,
to whom, with You and the Holy Spirit
be all honor and glory, now and forever.
Amen.

Eastbrook at Home – March 29, 2020

Eastbrook-At-Home-Series-GFX_16x9-Title

As we continue to navigate these unprecedented times related to the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, I want to invite you to worship with us at Eastbrook Church through Eastbrook at Home. On Sunday beginning at 8 am, we will stream our weekly worship service for you to watch at home with your small group, family, or friends. This service will then be available during the week until the next Sunday’s service starts.

As this is a new endeavor for Eastbrook, we expect that there will be some technical issues that we will need to address. Please let us know your experience by emailing us here. You can also access or download the service directly via Vimeo here.

This weekend we will continue our series, “God in the Ruins: The Message of the Minor Prophets,” as Pastor Ruth Carver speaks from the prophet Haggai. You can access all the messages from that series here.

If you are not signed up for our church emailing list, please sign up here. Regular updates on COVID-19 and coronavirus impact for our church activities can be found here.

Also, please remember that during this time financial support for the church is critical as we continue minister within our congregation and reach out to our neighborhood, city, and the world at this critical time. Please give online or send in a donation to support the ministry of Eastbrook Church.

The Weekend Wanderer: 28 March 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

116238“To Cancel or Not to Cancel: That Is the Question” – Like so many other church leaders, I have wrestled with adjusting to the new challenges of this time of COVID-19. We quickly cancelled public gatherings, including weekend services, due to state and local governmental orders services, but also out of the desire to love our neighbor by not spreading the virus. I do know that many churches continue to struggle with these decisions and what it means to “not forsake meeting together” (Hebrews 10:25) while also “being subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1). Here is a joint statement on that topic issued by The National Association of Evangelicals and Christianity Today.


Tom Wright Coronavirus“Ask NT Wright Anything #33 – Tom on Coronavirus, self-isolating and praying through crisis” – If you’re not acquainted with the podcast, “Ask NT Wright Anything,” this is a perfect opportunity to do so. Hosted by Justin Brierley, this episode finds Tom Wright self-isolating in his home in Oxford, covering topics related to the Coronavirus pandemic. “They cover: How Christians can maintain spiritual health during isolation, the pastoral implications for churches now and in the future, and why God created a world where disease and sickness exist.”


_111407082_priest_976“Coronavirus: At least 50 priests killed by coronavirus” –  What does selfless love look like? Maybe like this. “The deadly coronavirus sweeping across the world has killed at least 50 priests, officials say. They include Father Giuseppe Berardelli, 72, who died early this month in Lovere, Bergamo – one of the worst-hit cities in Italy. Reports on Tuesday that he had chosen to give his respirator to a younger coronavirus patient he did not know have been denied by close friends. Italy is the world’s worst affected country with 6,820 deaths so far.”


Oberammergau

“Pandemic postpones Oberammergau ‘Passion Play,’ itself a response to a plague”  – In neighboring Germany, the COVID-19 pandemic is causing a different sort of change. “In 1632, when the bubonic plague was spreading death across Europe and killed at least one member of every family in a small Bavarian Alpine town, distraught villagers in Oberammergau made a vow to God to perform a Passion play depicting the death and resurrection of Christ if their lives could be spared. As the legend goes, no further deaths were recorded and the Passionspiele — reenacting the end of the life of Jesus — has been staged every decade, or 41 times, since 1634. The coronavirus pandemic has now forced the cancellation of the 2020 edition — a total of 109 five-hour-long performances scheduled to run from May 16 to October 4. Officials announced Thursday that the world-famous open-air production, which features 2,500 residents from the town of 5,400, would be postponed two years, to May 2022.”


When a third of the world died“When a Third of the World Died” – History is important in the present moment to help us gain perspective on our own time, but also to learn from the past. Here is Mark Galli’s 1996 article from Christian History about the black plague in 14th century Europe, and its impact on the world and the church. “From 1347 to about 1350, medieval Europe experienced perhaps the greatest calamity in human history. It shouldn’t surprise us that this plague, or the Black Death as it is often called, left its mark on medieval Christianity. But in many cases, the mark it left looked as hideous as the symptoms of the Black Death itself.”


Chung Sye-kyun“S.Korea to act against churches for defying COVID-19 guidelines” – “South Korea’s Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said on Monday that his government is planning legal action against some Protestant churches for going ahead with their services, defying the ban on social gatherings. The move comes after the government claim that social distancing measures have shown positive results. South Korea on Monday said that it has reported the lowest daily figure of new COVID-19 or novel coronavirus infection since its outbreak….Chung said stern measures would be taken against churches, who have defined guidelines, meant to stem the spread of the virus. ‘The act of churches has seriously hurt not only the safety of individuals attending the service but also communities,’ Chung said while heading a meeting of various government agencies.”


116306“Pastors from Europe Tell North America: Get Ready Now” – A pastor friend shared this article by Ed Stetzer with me and I found it incredibly helpful and challenging. “This week, the Send Institute hosted a Zoom call with pastors, church planters, and missionaries in Italy and Spain to show solidarity and to glean from them how to prepare North American churches for the next few weeks. The resounding theme from the call was: Get ready.


Communion“Worship and Sacrament When the Church Is Scattered” – Every once in awhile you experience something fun when you discover two people you know separately actually know each other. That happened to me this past week when The Pastor Theologians Podcast featured Chris Ganski of City Reformed Church here in Milwaukee with Benj Petroelje, who I know from a previous ministry setting, of 14th Street Christian Reformed Church in Holland, MI. In this conversation, the two pastors explores what it means to worship and celebrate the sacraments in the time of COVID-19.


 

Music: Kirk Franklin and the Family, “Now Behold the Lamb,” from Christmas

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Peace” [Poetry for Lent]

Poetry for Lent 2.001

Every Thursday during Lent, I am posting a poem I have found meaningful for entering into Jesus’ journey to the Cross. Here is Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “Peace.” Gerard Manley Hopkins was a twentieth century British poet and Jesuit priest, whose work became widely known after his death.

When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I’ll not play hypocrite
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?

O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu
Some good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite,
That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
He comes to brood and sit.

Senior Pastor Update in the Time of COVID-19 (March 25, 2020)

Here is my latest update for Eastbrook Church as we navigate the time of COVID-19. I will continue to re-post these weekly updates here at my blog for those who have not seen it or who are not part of our church but could use the encouragement. I also encourage you to watch the video of our worship team leading the song “Way Maker,” from this past weekend’s service. It is such a powerful song, particularly during these days.