The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has brought massive changes to our way of life. Social distancing, the wearing of masks in public and shelter-in-place orders have forced many adjustments to our daily routines. Even worse are hardships of millions of Americans who have been furloughed or lost their jobs.
Small businesses are particularly hard hit. The major retailers deemed essential see their profits soar, slowed only by the empty shelves from certain commodities being hoarded. The smaller stores are forced to close. Some may never reopen. Rural and small-town Illinois will see this decline accelerate the longer restrictions are in place.
Gathering for worship in Illinois has been curtailed for groups greater than 10. We endured this through Lent, Holy Week, Easter and the Sundays following. Our pastors have been faithful in making devotions and sermons available. Livestreaming is offered for congregations large and small. Low-powered FM radio transmission is used to broadcast to cars in the parking lot. Thank the Lord that such technology exists for the free course and spreading of the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ! The Lord remains at work through this all. More than a few people have tuned into social-media services at congregations they have not attended in person for years.
There remains a hunger and thirst for the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar. Many pastors have worked hard to accommodate families and groups under 10 to receive the Lord’s Supper while maintaining social distancing. Other congregations have been without the Sacrament, feeding on a steady diet of God’s Word. Jesus rightly teaches that we do not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. God’s Word is powerful and living. It reveals the thoughts and intentions of every human heart. It kills and makes alive. One of our hymns says it well. “God’s Word is all sufficient, It makes divinely sure; and trusting in its wisdom, my faith shall rest secure” (LSB #587:1).
Martin Luther reminds us that God is rich in His mercy and grace. The Lord gives us counsel and aid in a variety of ways. Luther writes:
God is superabundantly generous in His grace: First, through the spoken Word, by which the forgiveness of sins is preached in the whole world (Luke 24:45-47). This is the particular office of the Gospel. Second, through Baptism. Third, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar. Fourth, through the Power of the Keys. Also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren, “Where two or three are gathered” (Matt. 18:20) and other such verses (especially Rom. 1:12). — Smalcald Articles, Part III, Article IV
There have been long periods of time when the Sacrament of the Altar was not available. Many Soviet Lutherans endured a long captivity without a pastor to administer the Sacrament to them. How they rejoiced when they were able to receive the Supper after the collapse of the Soviet Union! We pray such sacramental droughts may never come to Americans or Christians again!
Upon the birth of John the Baptizer, the tongue of Zechariah was loosed. He immediately launched into a hymn of praise to the Lord for keeping His Word and bringing salvation to His people. John’s arrival as the forerunner of Jesus the Messiah was God’s salvation drawing near. The Christ was coming to fulfill “the oath that He swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him, without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days” (Luke 1:73-75).
Rev. Timothy Scharr