This is the eighth contribution to His Grace’s emergency team ministry during the coronavirus pestilence. The author is a Christian and key-worker, who has had a busy week.
Were it not for lockdown, then next week I would be visiting the Sistine Chapel and marvelling again at Michelangelo’s masterpiece ‘The Creation of Adam’. The outstretched divine finger breaks through social distancing regulations, perhaps incurring the wrath of Inspector Knacker and a £60 fine, but also imparting life to the clay from which mankind is formed. Alas, I will not be seeing it. All roads might lead to Rome, but all unnecessary journeys lead to a ticking off from your local constabulary. To its credit, the Vatican has issued a full refund of my ticket without being asked. More than can be said for EasyJet, but I digress.
Touch. Contact. Is it really necessary? We have Cranmer’s glorious virtual Cathedral. We have video conferencing, home delivery and all the Babel benefits of the internet. But what of the human touch? Only when we lose something do we realise its value. So much that is good in the New Testament is brought directly by human contact. Verses tumble into the mind:
‘Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together‘ (Heb 10:25).
‘Greet one another with a holy kiss‘ (2Cor 13:12).
‘Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of hands‘ (1Tim 4:14).
‘And Jesus said, somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me‘ (Lk 8:45-46).
A multitude of texts such as these leave us in no doubt that actual physical contact is a vital part of our faith. What misery it must be when mourning relatives stand a grave-depth apart, unable to touch either the living or the dead. Or for souls to die alone, unheld, in the frenetic hospital. For young couples to see their wedding plans in tatters and for Godly souls to be denied holy communion.
But isolation is not new. Indeed, God thought of it first. The rules surrounding leprosy in Leviticus 13:4-5 bear a striking resemblance to the current Public Health England guidance on isolation: ‘..the priest shall shut up him that hath the plague seven days. And the priest shall look on him the seventh day: and, behold, if the plague in his sight be at a stay, and the plague spread not in the skin; then the priest shall shut him up seven days more.‘
So, should we isolate? For a while? For the sake of our society? Yes, of course we should. The alternative is to deliberately infect others in a Pharisaical zeal that places doctrine above the well-being of our fellow man.
Jesus himself taught that the law was made for man: ‘And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean‘ (Mk 1:40-41).
Now, according to Leviticus, this man ought never to have come: ‘All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be‘ (Lev 13:46).
But the man came, declaring his faith in Jesus’ power to heal. Jesus did not recoil as the crowds did, nor did he order the man to obey the law of Moses and self-isolate. In an echo of the creation, he reached out with a loving, life-giving touch. There was no need for this; Jesus often healed with a word, even at a distance. The touch was a deliberate act with a meaning. It demonstrated a reversal of the natural order; what CS Lewis described as “death beginning to work backwards”. Jesus did not become unclean, but the sufferer became clean. For Jesus was the original key-worker, ‘working the works of Him that sent me‘ (Jn 9:4), and holding ‘the keys of hell and of death‘ (Rev 1:18).
Many of Jesus’ followers today are key-workers. Indeed, vicars and pastors have been designated as such. Christians are disproportionately well represented among the caring professions, counting not the personal cost, as they live like Christ by serving others. The body of Christ is more active now than ever, in loving service to our fearful community. But our meeting together as Christians must, for a while, be curtailed. Let us be subject to rulers and authorities, so that we may ‘adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things‘ (Titus 2:10), for we are not our own, but were bought at a great price. God Himself became flesh. He entered this sin-infected world to accomplish in His body what could not be done in any other way: the destruction of that first, great separation in Eden. Humanity had long been isolated from God, but Christ has suffered, outside the city, so that we who were far off might be brought near.
There is much we can do in isolation. I have long been a supporter of The Leprosy Mission, a solidly Christian charity. A letter arrived from them today saying: “Thank you for being faithful to people affected by leprosy; relentless in your efforts to rescue the most vulnerable from rejection and injustice.” It asked for prayer and also spoke of their present difficulties in continuing to fund-raise through lockdown. The same needs exist in thousands of places. There is an abundance of opportunities for good works and a desperate need for prayer. I have donated my Vatican refund to The Leprosy Mission. If AasyJet ever gets its act together, then I will give more. But I digress.
He who breathed life into Adam will re-ventilate our lives. He will do it spiritually during these quiet days. He will do it physically, in His good time. Until then, a promise:
Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
Yea, the LORD shall give that which is good; and our land shall yield her increase (Ps 85:10-12).