I’m currently living in the UK. I think we’re only a couple of weeks ahead of Australia in terms of the virus.
Boris Johnson has the virus. So does the health secretary Matt Hancock. England’s Chief Medical Officer is self-isolating. As of writing this, the death toll in the UK stands at 1,019. Of course, that’s far less compared to Italy, which has recorded 10,023 deaths and Spain which has reached 5,690 deaths.
Today the medical director of the NHS said that limiting fatalities to 20,000 would be a ‘good result’.
Today the medical director of the NHS said that limiting fatalities to 20,000 would be a ‘good result’. Tonight, Boris Johnson is writing a letter to every household in the UK warning that “things will get worse before they get better”.
I was hesitant to write anything about the coronavirus. Partly because I am still processing all this myself, and partly because I’m not sure I have much to add to what has already been said. But as things get worse over here in the UK, something has started to dawn on me that maybe hasn’t filtered through to people in Australia:
I might die.
Things are bad
I know the statistics. I know that it is far less likely for young people to die from this virus. But it’s not impossible. I thank God that young children have been spared from this pandemic. But others haven’t. This past week in the UK it was reported that a 21-year-old girl with no underlying conditions died from the virus. Le Parisien tweeted about the death of Julie, a 16-year-old girl from Paris, also with no underlying conditions. Here in Cambridge, we’ve heard on a WhatsApp prayer group that the son of a local pastor is in intensive care. He’s in his 20s. Perhaps what hit me the most was the death of a 59-year-old head teacher of a primary school. It made me think of my son’s school, and how devastating it would be if that happened here.
It’s really only been in the past week that the BBC has begun to put faces to the growing number of deaths. Faces make things feel real. I guess I knew all this theoretically, but now it has really hit me. Things are bad. And I might die.
Death happens to other people
Death is the one topic that we gladly self-isolate from. No one likes to think about death. The coronavirus is all we talk about, and yet it seems as though many are ignoring the most obvious fact: We might die. You might die. I might die.
Over here, the virus has been framed as something that affects other people. The slogan is, “Stay at Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives”. But there is very little sense that it might be my life that I am saving. It’s other people. Older people. People with underlying health conditions. But not me. Of course, vulnerable people already feel this threat. But the rest of us don’t. And that’s really our mantra when it comes to death in general. Death happens to other people.
We can fall into this trap as Christians too. Much has been said about moving church online, loving our neighbour, helping those who lose their jobs or caring for those who will grieve. And these are all important issues. But we still like to think that the worst will happen to other people. That I will need to be the carer, not the one being cared for. That I will be the one comforting, not the one being comforted. Death happens to other people.
Except it doesn’t. There is nothing novel about this virus. The lockdowns, the hit to the economy, the rapid spread of infection and the high death toll – all these make us feel like something new is happening. But this is an old, old story. The death rate has been 100% since Adam and Eve. If coronavirus doesn’t take you, something else will. Death doesn’t just happen to other people. It will happen to you.
Number your days
So, are you prepared? There has been a lot of debate over our preparedness for this virus. Why didn’t we shut things down sooner? Why are hospitals short of Personal Protective Equipment? Why don’t we have enough beds available? There is no denying it—we weren’t prepared. But as people now go into lockdown, as masks arrive, and makeshift hospitals are set up, we still find ourselves unprepared. Unprepared for death.
Moses prays, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)
I realise that there is enough anxiety out there already. And I’m certainly not writing this to stoke the fire of panic. But there is wisdom in recognising reality. What a terrible thing it would be to find yourself rushed to hospital, full of fear, not having readied yourself for this moment. As a pastor, my first priority in this crisis must be to prepare people for their death. And to prepare myself as well.
In this time of uncertainty and this world of death, Jesus has got things covered. Dying and rising again, He has already prepared a place for us. Hold on to His comforting words.
He has prepared a place for you
As I lie in a hospital bed, hooked up to a ventilator, isolated from friends and family, will I know that I am not alone, and that God is with me and will comfort me (Psalm 23)? As I reflect on my sinfulness and God’s judgment, will I rest in the promise of forgiveness won by the cross (1 Peter 3:18)? As I worry about losing everything that is dear to me, will I rejoice that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus? (Romans 8:38-39). And as I face my own death, will my fear give way to faith, trusting that whoever believes in Jesus will live, even though they die (John 11:25)?
The wonderful news of the gospel is that Jesus is prepared. In this time of uncertainty and this world of death, Jesus has got things covered. Dying and rising again, He has already prepared a place for us. Hold on to His comforting words,
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (John 14:1-3).
 Sadly, these numbers will be far higher by the time you read this.