Suggested Scripture(s): Matthew 7:12, 25:34-40
I must give credit for this week’s thoughts to my wife and colleague in ministry, the Rev. Dr. Katie Hopper, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Philipsburg. I
t’s one of those times where I cannot express some given thoughts any better than what someone else has already written. I hope these words will speak to you and be of encouragement that whenever we need to be out and wearing a mask, that even then we are doing the Lord’s work.
Jesus said that even a cup of cold water given to another is the work and welcome of Christ (Matthew 10:42). Keep that in mind as you read these thoughts from Pastor Katie Hopper that follow.
The Theology of the Face Mask
Another week of sheltering in place. Another week of wondering and praying, “How Long Oh Lord?” (Habakkuk 1:1-3). Now we are being asked, required even, to wear face masks wherever we go. The grocery store, the hardware store, and any other places we can enter, are now required to have us wear masks. So here are some words I have come across and adapted for these present circumstances in which we find ourselves.
We are all being asked to cover our face with a mask, not because it really makes us safer, but so we might not spread the virus to others. So, to wear a face mask is a concrete act of loving our neighbor as ourselves. Am I wearing it just because I feel it saves me –just one more act of desperate though natural self-preservation – or, because I fully know I do this primarily so that I can save someone else: mostly persons whom I may never even know? What, theologically and biblically, does it mean to cover my face, to mask myself, as part of a collective action to save others?
I believe that it is very much an act of love. My husband years ago used an illustration on the difference between Heaven and Hell that has stayed with me. It is the picture of a long banquet table laden with wonderful food. There are two of these tables, one in Heaven and one in Hell. As the people gather to eat in both places, they are each given spoons with 6-foot handles and told they must only use these oversized utensils to eat.
So in Hell, the greatest eternal food fight ensues as each person desperately tries to feed him or herself. Food flies everywhere. People injure one another and themselves with these six-foot spoons.
But in heaven, after a few moments of thinking this through and giving thanks to Christ for their salvation, the people discern that even though they cannot feed themselves, they can feed one another. Nothing even falls on the floor. It reminds me of our daily health briefings from the Pennsylvania offices of the Governor and State Health Director. Our state Secretary of Health tells us each day, “My mask protects you, and your mask protects me.” Whether intended or not, I would call that an excellent theology and practice of agape love.
Years ago, Margaret Mead, the famous anthropologist, was asked by a student what is the first real sign of civilization in a culture of people. The student expected to hear about clay pots, tools for hunting, grinding stones, or religious artifacts.
“But no,” Professor Mead said. She noted that the first evidence of civilization was a 15,000-year-old fractured femur found at an archaeological site. A femur is the longest bone in the body, linking our hip to the knee. In societies without the benefits of modern medicine, it took about six weeks of rest for a fractured femur to heal. This discovered bone had been broken and had healed.
Mead explained that in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die. You cannot run from danger; you cannot drink or hunt for food. Wounded in this way, you are prey for your predators. No creature survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal, because you would be eaten first.
But a broken femur that has healed is evidence that another person took the time to stay with the injured person, that someone bound up the wound, carried the person to safety, and maybe tended him or her through recovery. A healed femur indicates that someone helped a fellow human, rather than abandoning the person to save his or her own life. So helping someone else through a difficulty and sharing needed tasks – like growing crops and gathering resources –is actually where civilization began.
So let us never doubt that an individual, or a small/large group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change and even help prevent or heal diseases in the world and actually be doing the Lord’s work.
So, my sisters and brothers, dear children of God, wear your masks and I will wear mine. In so doing, we will be caring for those around you. For Jesus reminds us that when we have ministered to the least of these, we have ministered to Him and also fulfilled the law by doing unto others, as we would desire others to do unto us.