About four years ago my wife and I vacationed in Norway, the home of my ancestors. In the course of that visit we stopped at about 15 churches, all of them older than our great nation. We wanted to see what types of Christian customs may have characterized the church in that corner of the world centuries ago. Most of the church buildings we visited were called Stavkirker (stave churches) because of their unique wood frame construction.
At one church we were fortunate to find a guide who had made it her business to research fully the church building which she oversaw. I asked questions and she answered them so completely that we ended up talking for about an hour.
Of all the idiosyncrasies of that old wood church in Norway the one that intrigued me most were little windows about three inches by six inches in the chancel of the church. They were typically cut right out of the wood and served no good purpose that I could see since they were too small and too close to the floor for any appreciable light.
“What is the function of these tiny windows,” I queried. “They let in bugs and cold air. Why have them?”
“These were used by the priest or pastor during communion,” she answered. “He would take the host and then the cup and hand the sacrament to the lepers who would be standing right outside of the church listening.”
“But weren’t the pastors ever afraid that they might catch the leprosy?”
Her answer was pretty emphatic, “They are pastors. They give the sacrament. It’s their calling.” It was as if the question was a bad one.
I pushed the issue. “But certainly it did cross their minds that this was a dangerous thing. They knew leprosy was contagious or they would not have kept the lepers outside during the services.”
She smiled and I got the impression she had answered this before. “What was in their mind I do not know. But I know what was in their heart. It has always been the responsibility of the church’s pastors to bless people whose suffering requires it. I imagine that the people thought that there was danger involved. The pastors only thought about what needed to be done.”
At that moment I was very pleased to be a Christian pastor. I thought of other pastors who had risked something to bless their people; Philip Nicolai and Paul Gerhard who risked disease from the plague to bless their people and bury their dead, the apostle Paul who risked persecution and death to bless his people and visit them with the gospel, Martin Luther who risked death simply so that he could write and teach, Dietrich Bonheoffer who risked death so that the gospel could have free course in his nation.
Now lately I have thought of Matt Harrison and his team who have gone to an unstable place in order to bless people whose suffering requires it. I have kept in my prayers those Christian workers. What is in their mind I do not know. But I know what is in their hearts. I am only pleased that they know what needs to be done. Love, kindness and mercy need to be given.