A Song for Methodists in the Coronavirus Crisis
A meditation from James A Harnish, Retired Elder, Florida Annual Conference, Co-convener Uniting Methodists
A solitary psalmist sang the question that echoed in the hearts of the Israelites in Babylon who were isolated from people they loved and cut off from places they knew so well. “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” (Psalm 137:4 KJV). But sing they did! And the songs have been passed down to us.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced all of us into a strange land of isolation. But leave it to the opera-loving Italians! In several places, opera soloists have gone to their balconies to sing to their neighbors in isolation around them. In some places, people on their balconies joined in a bold and joyful protest against the power of the virus to silence their songs.
Methodists have historically been singing people. So, what song might we sing in the strange land to which the coronavirus has brought us?
A Song of Love
Our first song has always been about the love of Christ which “drives out fear” (1 John 4:18 CEB). Wesley’s hymns reverberate with the life-changing, joy-bringing, fear-expelling “love divine, all loves excelling.” John Wesley’s sermons are unwaveringly centered in the call to love God and to love others.
When the headlines are filled with soul-draining, joy-robbing, fear-bringing bad news, can we be people who continue to sing a song of love? Will we not only sing about it, but practice it in our life together? Could the pandemic that has postponed General Conference be the opportunity for us to reclaim the love that gave our movement its birth? Could we again pray with Charles Wesley for the Prince of Peace to “bid our jarring conflicts cease?”
A Song of Healing
Although some of John Wesley’s cures in his Primitive Physic, or an Easy and Natural Method of Curing Most Diseases sound humorous to us, it represented his attempt to do everything he could to be an agent of God’s healing and wholeness to people wracked by illness, particularly poor people who could not afford to get sick. Confronted by the likelihood of overcrowded hospitals and massive numbers of sick people, how can we sing a song of healing, providing care for people who are infected and support for medical teams who are on the front lines of the epidemic? Will we hold our politicians accountable to provide healthcare for the poor? May we still sing with Wesley:
Son of righteousness, Arise,
With healing in thy wing,
To my diseas’d, my fainting soul,
Life and salvation bring.
A Song of Belonging
Being a Methodist has always meant being in connection with others. We believe that “holiness can only exist and grow in the context of relationships with other people” (David N. Field, Bid Our Jarring Conflicts Cease, Nashville: Foundry Books, 2017, p. 29). We sing our songs together, hopefully in harmony, but always joyfully and in full strength. As the pandemic spreads, individual isolation will become a lonely and, for some, a dangerous reality. Although we cannot gather face to face, through modern technology and the old-fashioned telephone, we can continue to be connected to others, for their sake as well as for our own. How will we stay connected with brothers and sisters in Christ so every person will feel that they are not alone? How will we live into the prayer Charles taught us to sing?
Help us to help each other, Lord,
Each other’s cross to bear;
Let all their friendly aid afford,
And feel another’s care.
Nothing in Babylon could silence the psalmist’s song. When the pandemic has passed, may the people around us say, “Those Methodists never stopped singing!”