In 2006, the movie We Are Marshall starring Matt McConaughey (Coach Jack Lengyel) was released. The movie depicts life for a small city after an airplane crash that took the lives of 75 Marshall University players, coaches, and alumni returning from a game. This tragic loss shocked the sports world, and the small West Virginia town surrounding the campus was devastated by this event.
Today, we find ourselves in a different type of event – the coronavirus epidemic. The despair, fears, discouragement, and apprehension found in almost every town is palpable. Anger burst onto the scene of a simple grocery shopping excursion as people yelled at others to maintain a certain distance or to share in the purchase of toilet paper.
Craziness and anxiety are being redefined with each daily occurrence and news reports. Like the variety of personalities in the We Are Marshall movie we see people demonstrate a range of emotions from great hope and assurance to sheer panic.
During a key scene in the movie, Coach Lengyel met with his assistant coach who was about to give up because the new team of misfits hastily put together to replace those killed in the crash were not playing very well. The coach gave this advice:
For most teams winning is everything. Nothing else matters. But for us winning is not what matters here and now. Instead, we must simply play the game. What matters is that we show up and take the field. All that matters is that we play the game and keep this program alive. One day – not today or tomorrow – but one day we will wake up and it will be like every other day. That is when we honor those who died.
For America and the world one day this will all be over. The early church was no stranger to plagues, epidemics, and mass hysteria. According to both Christian and non-Christian accounts, one of the main catalysts for the church’s explosive growth in its early years was how Christians navigated disease, suffering, and death. The church’s posture made such a strong impression on Roman society that even pagan Roman emperors complained to pagan priests about their declining numbers, telling them to step up their game.
In A.D. 249 to 262, Western civilization was devastated by one of the deadliest pandemics in its history. Though the exact cause of the plague is uncertain, the city of Rome was said to have lost an estimated 5,000 people a day at the height of the outbreak. One eyewitness, Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria, wrote that although the plague did not discriminate between Christians and non-Christians, “Its full impact fell on [non-Christians].” Having noted the difference between Christian and non-Christian responses to the plague, he says the non-Christians in Alexandria were dismayed and in panic. The non-Christian response to the plague was characterized by self-protection, self-preservation, and avoiding the sick at all costs, the Christian response was the opposite. According to Dionysius, the plague served as a “schooling and testing” for Christians.
The early church leaned into God’s promises and prayed for their communities. They showed compassion and love to others. They were comforted by the promise of a risen Savior (1 Thessalonians 4:18); they remembered what God had taught Isaiah, “Fear not, for I am with you… I will uphold you with my right hand” ([Isaiah 41:10](Isaiah 41:10)); and that they should humble themselves under the mighty hand of God. (1 Peter 5:7)
The key to healing is: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Read: Luke 13:1–5
Jim Grassi, D. Min.