A Message from Dean Michael on Preparing Well
The following letter from Dean Michael Guernsey to the congregation of Holy Cross Cathedral is published here with his permission.
My friend died today. Paul was in no way connected with Holy Cross (other than being my friend). He was a faithful member of the church I pastored in South Carolina, and I worked closely with him for the years I was there. He was in his 70s and he died of complications associated with contracting the coronavirus.
I’m of an age that I have not yet had many friends die. Most societies in the past, and many in other parts of the world today, face death much more often than we do. Death is sanitized here and often distant from our everyday lives.
But my friend died today.
The reality is that our nation and our world are facing a scary situation. Most who contract the coronavirus will have relatively mild symptoms and will recover very well, but not everyone will. And while we are in the midst of the uncertainty and anxiety of “stay home” orders and social distancing, I’ve found myself thinking about some of the unsettling “what ifs.” I write this to you not to make you afraid, but to process together what many of us are thinking. Death and sickness are real, and they are frightening.
In thinking about my friend, it has caused me to think again about being ready — ready for myself to die, but also making sure I’m ready in my relationships with others. Are there relationships that would be terrible to end the way they are now? Am I pursuing God the way I should? With whom do I need to share the Gospel while they still have time? Honestly thinking about death, even our own death, is an important Christian practice. We do so not with despair or terror, but in light of what Jesus has done for us on the cross. Thinking about these things will do us good.
The fact is that on this side of Jesus’ return, we will continue to face death and decay and all the scariness and pain that come along with them. We who are in Christ need not fear, but in this time of uncertainty we would be wise to think soberly and prepare well. We know that because of Jesus’ victory on the cross death itself has lost its sting (1 Corinthians 15:55), but for now we continue to experience the pain of loss on this side of history’s consummation in his return. We look with confidence to the future, but that confidence only appropriately lies in Christ. We hope in him and what he has done. Without him we would be left hopeless.
So, as we face the anxieties of this season, I invite you to prepare well:
- Confess your sins. Admit your shortcomings and idolatry, how we have placed so many other things before God in our hearts and lives.
- Put your faith in Jesus. Salvation is found nowhere else. Turn to Jesus and accept his gift of forgiveness. If you’d like to talk more about this, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to talk with you and pray with you about putting your faith in Jesus. If you want to process this, or if you’re not sure you’ve done this, please reach out and talk with me.
- Repair your relationships. Reconciliation and forgiveness are hallmarks of Jesus’ kingdom. Followers of Jesus should display these essential virtues as our Lord did.
- Pray. Use this as a season to learn to pray more deeply. Use the prayer book (especially Morning, Mid-day, and Evening Prayer). These services are available for free online at www.dailyoffice2019.com. Set aside time every day to be alone and pray. Verbalize your personal prayers from your heart. Pray with your spouse. Pray with your children. Pray with your church family when you call each other. Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
- Worship: Make weekly worship an absolutely essential part of your life. Join in at 8:45am for our livestream here (https://www.hcanglican.org/live-streaming-of-services). We will let you know more about the timing of Palm Sunday and Easter livestreams next week.
- Read the Bible: You likely have more time available than you thought you’d have. One man I know who is working from home now said that with the removal of his daily commute, he now has 3 hours more time available each day. Redeem that time by reading and studying God’s Word.
On a very practical note, I ask you to please observe the stay home orders and practice significant and consistent social distancing. Doing so will help protect you, and it will also help protect the other Pauls who will not survive if they contract the virus.
One of my favorite pieces of the Sunday liturgy comes at the beginning of the Eucharist. The priest says, “By his resurrection Jesus broke the bonds of death, trampling Hell and Satan under his feet.” I am always encouraged by those words. In the past I said those words many times at Communion while my friend Paul listened, and I know that one day he and I and all who trust in Jesus will together experience the truth of those words as we see Jesus face to face. All who put our faith in Jesus and receive his gifts of grace and mercy will see him in his glory-victorious over Sin and Death, reigning forever.
So, my invitation to you, is to honestly think about how prepared you are to face your own mortality. We face this world with confidence and trust in Jesus who defeated Death for us. We can go through this anxious and painful season with courage because Jesus has won the victory.