Wash Hands, Wash Feet

Loving our neighbors involves both social distancing and relief efforts.

COVID-19 PERSPECTIVE: Mark Batterson

National Community Church, Washington, D.C.

On December 23, 1776, Thomas Paine penned these words in a pamphlet titled The Crisis: “These are the times that try men’s souls.” The context, of course, was the American revolution. The current context is the novel coronavirus that has reminded us of how mortal we really are. It has shut down businesses, shut down schools, shut down mass gatherings, but it has not shut down the church. Most churches have suspended physical gatherings for a season, but the church is not a building. In fact, a church that stays inside its four walls isn’t a church at all. The church is built for crisis situations like this. We are here for such a time, for such a place as this!

We find ourselves in a season of tremendous uncertainty. With every news cycle, anxiety seems to escalate. It’s in situations like this that we’ve got to be dialed into what God is saying, what God is doing. This is a teachable moment for the body of Christ.

The German theologian, Karl Barth, said, “Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.” We get this backwards all too often. These are the moments when we’ve got to stand on the promises of God and proclaim his plans, his purposes. The question, of course, is how are we to respond as the body of Christ? Let’s take a cue from church history.

From the 14th century through the 16th century, the Bubonic plague swept across Europe killing as many as 200 million people. In August of 1527, 10 years after nailing 95 theses on the doors of the Castle Church, the black death hit Wittenberg, Germany. Luther’s prince, Elector John, told him to flee the city. Luther decided to stay and help those in need. Luther wrote a letter to another pastor, Johann Hess. It was titled, Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague.

I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above.

Luther’s approach to pandemic was two-dimensional. He attempted to protect himself, but he also took calculated risks to care for others. We must follow suit. How? By washing hands and washing feet.

There is an old axiom: Cleanliness is next to godliness. John Wesley used that phrase in a sermon he preached in 1778, but the genesis is Sir Francis Bacon, the father of the scientific method: “Cleanness of body was ever deemed to proceed from a due reverence to God.” Let’s be honest, most of us don’t really associate cleanliness and godliness. But there is more of a link than we think. For starters, our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Part of keeping them holy is keeping them healthy.

Right now, we’re practicing social distancing to flatten the infection curve. Why are we taking such drastic measures? Because we’re trying to protect the most vulnerable among us. Social distancing is a form of social justice.

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Most people read right over the book of Leviticus. It feels archaic, but it has never been more relevant. Here is the irony of the situation we find ourselves in, battling an invisible enemy called COVID-19. The solution is not the latest and greatest technology. Sure, we’re trying to find a vaccine. But the solution right now is ancient best practices, first employed by the Jewish people. The Levitical laws are looking pretty genius right now. Everything the CDC is prescribing is right there. God employed and the Jewish people practiced social distancing and self-quarantine in situations where they were unclean, where they were contagious, where they might put others at risk. It wasn’t fun spending seven days outside the camp because you were unclean, but you did it for the good of the whole. The Jewish people were also religious about hand washing. As simple as it sounds, washing our hands is more than just protecting ourselves from infection. It’s the way we love our neighbors.

Now let me flip this coin. We don’t just wash our hands, we wash other people’s feet just as Jesus did. Jesus turned the socioeconomic order upside down by doing a job reserved for the least of servants. He got his hands dirty by washing his disciple’s feet.

How does that translate in this current crisis? When the Mayor of D.C. shut down mass gatherings, we decided to go online like many churches. But we also saw an opportunity to fulfill our mission, which is more than building a church. Our mission is to bless a city. We turned the D.C. Dream Center and Ebenezers Coffeehouse into Resource Centers that serve hundreds of meals every day. We also set up a relief fund to assist those most affected by this crisis.

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Historically speaking, crisis is when the church is at her best. This is when we step up and step in. We were built for this. We don’t let fear dictate our decisions. We operate by faith. We do our best to be the hands and feet and Christ, showing the love of Christ in practical ways. Like Epaphroditus, we take calculated risks to love people in times of need.

Wash your hands.

Wash feet.

Rinse and repeat.

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