“Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” a 1975 mega-hit comedy, is set (mostly) in plague-ridden 932 AD.
We meet a coroner pushing his cart containing jumbled cadavers. He cries: “Bring out your dead.”
Corpse Bearer (CB), carrying what appears to be a corpse slung over his shoulder, answers: “Here’s one.”
But the “corpse” calls out: “I’m not dead.” Coroner: “What?” CB: “Nothing; here’s your nine pence.” Corpse: “I’m not dead.” Coroner: “He says he’s not dead.” CB: “Yes, he is.” Corpse: “No, I’m not; I’m getting better.”
The debate continues. Finally, Coroner clubs the “corpse” who is flung on the cart.
Consider a brief history
Let’s jump to 1347-50. A fast-spreading plague took out one-third of Europe's population. One-third!
In 1374, Viscount Bernabo of Reggio, Italy, ordered plague infected persons taken outside the city into fields to die or recover. Brutal!
Later, officials in the port city of Ragusa passed “trentino” law, a “30-day” isolation for ships arriving from plague-affected areas.
Other municipalities extended isolation from 30 days to 40 days calling it “quarantino,” a term derived from the Italian “quaranta,” “forty.” Hence, “quarantine.” What a story!
Why the 10-day extension?
Some Greeks understood contagious disease developed within 40 days after exposure.
Others hypothesize Christian influence added 10 days. Scripture uses “40” a walloping 146 times!
Think: time for repentance: Jonah 3:4 -- Jonah “called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” The people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them…10 God relented.” Let’s repent!
Think: Jesus’ 40-day companionship with his disciples from his resurrection until his ascension. Let’s seek his camaraderie.
Think: Lent’s 40-days of anticipation.
Here, we remember Noah’s, Moses’ and Jesus’ 40-day sequesterings.
First, quarantines and us
The IR reported our sheltering in place meant: “spending time working and schooling from home, playing video games, watching movies, cooking, hiking or tackling cleaning projects, going for drives, lots of reading, keeping up with family and friends online, sewing, puzzles.”
When the pandemic caught us, I was in Lander, Wyoming, Feb. 3-April 3, filling in for a pastor on sabbatical. After services were canceled, I started video recording sermons, eventually, one a day. That enabled me to head home to Helena.
Despite careful disposable-glove-and-hand-sanitizer-social-distancing travel, upon arriving home, no embracing/kissing – but a state-ordered 14-day quarantine. Thank God it’s over!
Back to Noah, Moses and Jesus. Let’s give their “quarantines” some thought.
One campus pastor/friend’s contemplations prodded him to urge his now on-line group to “embrace the void” – a form of fasting – like Psalms of lament.
Here are two other ideas…
As far as we know, in Noah’s and Jesus’ 40 days no reading for them. And Moses, well, he had heavy reading – the 10 Commandments in stone!
Our three faithful grew up in “oral” cultures. An esteemed friend whose career is approaching 60 years with Trans World Radio finds oral cultures perfect for radio.
Deafened by our entertainment-driven world, we marvel at the prodigious recall of oral cultures.
Undoubtedly, Noah, Moses and Jesus, during their quarantines, meditated on God’s word received in their oral tradition. “Jesus quoted the Old Testament (OT) 78 times, citing 15 OT books, referring to the OT as “the Scriptures,” “God’s word,” and “God’s wisdom.” The apostles quoted the OT 209 times!”
And us? Early in the pandemic, a NC friend, Ann Ayers, asked: “Have we prepared our hearts?
Our faith in our loving, all-powerful God can be shaken when we find ourselves socially isolated, dreading the day when an invisible, insidious enemy ambushes us. Our anxious, unbelieving hearts race with dread. What can anyone do?”
“Let’s memorize Scripture, fear’s permanent antidote. God’s word turns earthly terror into an opportunity to renounce our own strength -- to cling to Him, repent and refresh our souls with the unbreakable salvation that He has prepared for us from the foundation of the world.”
“Have extra time with your children? Memorize Scripture. Your kids may do this with lightning speed compared to you. Let them see you struggle because God's word is worth the struggle.”
Friend, will you exit this pandemic with a new/renewed companion/focus – Scripture?
The prompt: “Take up and read” Scripture transformed Augustine (354-430) who changed our world.
Note also Indian, Vishal Mangalwadi (1949 -) and his 2012 book, in the pastor’s study in Lander (!): “The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization.” His new book is: “This Book Changed Everything: The Bible's Amazing Impact on Our World” (2019).
Will new pandemic priorities revitalize our souls and the soul of our civilization?
During times of solitude, like Noah, Moses and Jesus, let’s draw near to God. Imagine their conversations with him!
Consider St Patrick (386-?) -- raised in a Christian home, but distant from God. Suddenly kidnapped, he found himself sequestered in a distant land – a hungry, lonely, frightened, freezing teenager – shepherding flocks for an Irish war lord.
But, God changed his heart. Patrick recalled: “I would pray constantly during the daylight hours” and “the love of God… surrounded me more and more” (“Confessions”).
Friend, will God draw near you in your isolation?
Eventually, 6 years later (!), Patrick escaped.
Decades later he returned. In "How the Irish Saved Civilization” Thomas Cahill writes, “Only this former slave had the right instincts to impart to the Irish a New Story, one that made sense of all their old stories and brought them a peace they had never known before.”
His enemies had become his friends/brothers/sisters. And, according to Cahill, these former barbarians saved civilization. Read the story.
How will this pandemic quarantine change you? More Scripture, more prayer?
With renewed vigor, let’s sing the eighth century Irish hymn: “Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; naught be all else to me, save that Thou art. Thou my best thought, by day or by night, waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.”
Steve Bostrom, descendant of Swedish homesteaders, husband of Via, father of eight, father-in-law of seven, and grandfather of 13, loves Helena and serves here as a pastor at large. He is ordained by the Presbyterian Church in America. To contact him, email: email@example.com.
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