Posted by: jaimemwsanders | March 18, 2020

Same as It Ever Was

In the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (still the official prayer book of the Church of England) there is this prayer for “In the time of any plague or sickness:”

O Almighty God, who in thy wrath didst send a plague upon thine own people in the wilderness, for their obstinate rebellion against Moses and Aaron; and also in the time of King David, didst slay with the plague of Pestilence threescore and ten thousand; and yet remembering thy mercy didst save the rest; Have pity upon us miserable sinners, who now are visited with great sickness and mortality; that like as thou didst then accept of an atonement, and didst command the destroying Angel to cease from punishing, so it may now please thee to withdraw from us this plague and grievous sickness, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

By 1928, in the Episcopal Church, the emphasis in the prayer for a “Time of Great Sickness and Mortality” had changed from the wrath of God to human knowledge, skill, and wisdom.

O MOST mighty and merciful God, in this time of grievous sickness, we flee unto thee for succour. Deliver us, we beseech thee, from our peril; give strength and skill to all those who minister to the sick; prosper the means made use of for their cure; and grant that, perceiving how frail and uncertain our life is, we may apply our hearts unto that heavenly wisdom which leadeth to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

In the 1979 Book of Common Prayer there is no prayer for times of epidemic. Yet, an epidemic is upon us. An epidemic for which there is as yet no cure, and for which our civic authorities in the United States appear to have been woefully underprepared, so that most people cannot even determine whether they have the virus. Libraries, churches, and restaurants are closed. Hospitals are postponing routine surgeries in order to free up capacity for patients needing respiratory support. The headline in this morning’s online New York Times is “Nations Pledge Trillions to Stave Off Economic Catastrophe.”

We thought that we could control our destinies. We thought that with sufficient wisdom and scientific knowledge, we would no longer be subject to the terrifying sweep of illness and death that we cannot control. We thought that we no longer needed a prayer for the time of plague. We were wrong.

I read an article a couple of weeks ago about people who are “re-wilding;” rediscovering skills required to live without the support of modern civilization or technology. The journalist was surprised to discover that spending time with them brought her not into solitude but into closer community. At our essence, we are interdependent with all of nature and with one another. The bats in which the novel coronovirus originated share our mammalian nature. My health depends on the behavior of people who go to clubs on Saturday night instead of church on Sunday morning. As theirs depends on mine.

Almighty God, in this time of grievous sickness, we remember our frailty and mortality; our dependence on you and on all your creation. Forgive us our hubris, our selfishness, our wastefulness. Accept our repentance, O God, and set our feet into paths of healing and wholeness. Protect, O merciful God, those who care for the ill; give them strength and courage. Guide, O Wisdom, those who govern and hold power in our society, that they may use their power for the common good. And give us grace to serve not ourselves alone, but our neighbor, in the name of Jesus Christ our Savior.

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