How to Endure a Pandemic: An Exhortation from Hebrews 13
Like many people during this global pandemic, I have been spending a lot of my “quarantine time” staring at a screen. Technology has been a lifeline— my computer has enabled me to stay updated on important information, continue my education, and even meet with my community group remotely through video chat during this strange time of isolation.
Like many have spoken about, I’ve finally settled into a “new normal.” My new routine looks a little different than my old one. On Monday nights, rather than piling onto the couches in the BCM basement with my community group to study God’s Word, sharing our lives and the occasional snack (these ladies know how to bake a banana bread), we all log onto Zoom and share what we can from across the distances that separate us. It’s such a joy to see their faces, but it’s not the same.
Last Sunday was my roommate and dear friend Hayley’s birthday. We had been planning her a surprise party for weeks, but the need for social distancing put an end to our VERY social plans. Unfazed, we moved the party online. We invited her to a “roomie zoomie” (this is what we have lovingly dubbed our roommate Zoom meetings) and when she entered the video chat room, it was full of friends all excited to celebrate her day. We spent the evening laughing and enjoying fellowship, each from our respective houses. It was lovely, but it wasn’t quite the same as it would have been. As it could have been.
Every Zoom meeting I’ve been a part of has ended the same way. I wave goodbye, hit the “leave call” button, and am left alone at my desk. The chorus of everyone’s “byeeee!” is abruptly replaced by silence, or sometimes a cacophony of little-brother-noises emanating from the next room (I am blessed to be able to self-isolate at my parent’s house. Or at least, this is the mantra I repeat to myself several times a day.)
But Sunday night, I went to bed sad. I was mourning what had been lost. Time with my senior friends, meetings with my professors, coffee dates and conversations with coworkers and Thursday night worship at the BCM. Sure, I could still communicate with these people. But as I tried to sleep, four words echoed in my head that I hadn’t been able to keep off my lips for days: It’s not the same.
By Monday I was angry. What was supposed to be my first day of working remotely became the day that I received word that I had lost my position as a remote student worker, and as a result had lost my only source of income.
“I’m just mad,” I told friends plainly over the phone. “I am straight up not having a good time right now.”
Fortunately, God never lets me wallow like this for very long. I returned to my computer to find a notification from a close family friend, who had sent me the thirteenth chapter of Hebrews. We hadn’t been talking before. In fact, we hadn’t spoken in a while. I know God put it on her heart to share it with me, because I needed to hear it.
I’m pretty sure this breaks blog-writing rules, but I’m including the entire thirteenth chapter of Hebrews here, because it blessed me so much this week. I hope you’ll read the whole thing:
1 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. 2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. 3 Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
4 Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. 5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”
6 So we say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?”
7 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
9 Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. 10 We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.
11 The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. 12 And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. 13 Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. 14 For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.
15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
17 Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.
18 Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. 19 I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.
Benediction and Final Greetings
20 Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
22 Brothers and sisters, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for in fact I have written to you quite briefly.
23 I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, I will come with him to see you.
24 Greet all your leaders and all the Lord’s people. Those from Italy send you their greetings.
25 Grace be with you all.
(Hebrews 13:1-25, NIV)
So many things from this passage feel so applicable to this season. Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters (v. 1), don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers (v. 2), avoid the love of money and be content with what you have (v. 5), remember your leaders in the faith, and follow their example (v. 7), don’t be distracted by strange teachings (v. 8), continually offer God a sacrifice of praise (v. 15), have confidence in your leaders (v. 17).
But one verse in particular stuck out to me even more than the rest. It was verse fourteen:
"For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come."
The writer of Hebrews was writing to a people enduring great hardships. We know this from 10:32: "Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering."
The recipients of the book of Hebrews had been persecuted. They faced humiliation, insult, and death. The writer of Hebrews encourages them, still, to meet Jesus where he is, outside the camp, outside their comfort zone, “bearing the disgrace he bore.” (13:13) His reasoning?
"For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come." (v. 14)
As Christians, we are able to endure hardships on earth because we know that this is temporary. We get to look forward to “the city that is to come.” We pray to God, but one day we will experience Him fully. I’m reminded of 1 Corinthians 13:12: "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known."
Talking to my friends through Zoom isn’t the same. I can’t hug a friend at community group, or throw ketchup packets at someone from across the booth at Cookout right now. All I or anyone I know can talk about is how we’ll celebrate when this is all over. We’re looking forward to it, because our long separation will be over, and we’ll finally be able to be together fully, instead of just sort of flatly on a screen. This is how we encourage one another, with rallies of:
“Yeah, this is crummy, but imagine the brunches! The camping trips! The Shaffer dates! The Engage at 7:07s! The Cookout nights!”
These are things that (Lord willing,) we will see in this lifetime. Students will return to campus, our senior friends will begin their lives after college (hopefully returning to visit), and we’ll all meet at the BCM again to lift our hearts in worship. Anticipating these days makes the isolation that we must experience now bearable.
This is how we should think of our lives on earth.
We can endure hardships because one day we’ll be united with God and the whole body of believers forever.
We should remind one another of this! Just like we dream about the gatherings we’ll have when social distancing is no longer necessary, we can be encouraged by “looking for the city that is to come.”
- Emily Combs, MSU Junior/History Major/BCM PR Team Member