Luther, a Front Liner in the Wittenberg Epidemic

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4 ESV)

Photo by Wim van ‘t Einde on Unsplash

In 1527 the bubonic plague afflicted Luther’s home town of Wittenberg, Germany. The deadly plague had previously hit Europe and killed 25% of those infected.  Unlike Covid 19 the bubonic plague was not a pandemic but only an epidemic; it did not affect the whole country but only some towns and cities.  Because the control of germ-caused diseases were not yet developed then, people avoided the plague by moving to safe, uninfected areas. 

          The pastors serving churches in Wittenberg were torn between staying to serve their congregations or moving out of town to save themselves and their families. They wrote to Martin Luther to ask for his advice.

Luther replied that saving one’s life was not wrong in itself. The Apostle Paul and King David escaped to save themselves when their lives were threatened.  Pastors may leave if there was someone to take care of their flock.  Otherwise, they should stay but take necessary precautions to avoid infection.

In any case, regardless of whether the pastor stayed or moved out he has to be motivated by only one thing — love for others.  This is what the Lord Jesus expects from His servants. 

Luther himself chose to stay and continue his ministry. At that time, Luther was 44 years old, his wife was pregnant and his young son was sick.  He converted his house which was a small monastery into a makeshift hospital and provided pastoral care to the sick and dying.  He was a health front liner.  

 Luther did not spiritualize dealing with the disease.  He did not falsely assume that his Christian faith will automatically protect him. He took practical health precautions. He fumigated areas, purified the air, took medicines, and avoided unnecessary travel. 

At Gethsemane our Savior Jesus had his own struggle — face death on the cross or save His life. But His love for us prevailed. He submitted to the Father’s will and chose to suffer and die.  On the third day He rose from death and defeated sin, Satan and hell.

          Although there is no consensus among scholars some believe that Luther wrote the hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” during the Wittenberg epidemic.  The hymn expresses Luther’s unwavering faith in Christ regardless of sickness, pain and death:

          “If we in our own strength confide,

          Our striving turns to losing;

          The Righteous One fights by our side,

          The One of God’s own choosing.

          You ask who this may be:

          Christ Jesus it is He.”

PRAYER:

          Thank you, Lord Jesus for fighting by our side as we struggle with Covid 19.  May our faith in you intensify our love for our neighbor especially those in need.  Amen.

FOR REFLECTION:

Was there ever a time when you felt that no one else but Christ

can help you as you struggle with a difficult situation?   What was that experience like?

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