With all the upheaval and uncertainty swirling around us these days, both at home and abroad, it seems well-nigh impossible to maintain a calm and collected outlook. I am not a person easily thrown into panic, but, in recent days, I’ve found my heart racing when I ponder what’s on the horizon. The “what ifs” buzz around me like hangry mosquitoes. What if my elderly parents get the virus? What if the economy falls flat on its face? What if my wife and I lose our jobs? What if half the world sinks into full or semi anarchy?
When all daily ordinaries are threatened, when all our little personal worlds are shaken, one attractive possibility is to panic and withdraw. Hoard and hide. In everything from toilet paper shortages to postponed weddings, we see evidence of people jettisoning ordinary activities and embracing fear.
I know of a man who, some time ago, was in a situation somewhat parallel to ours—but much worse. A revolt was raging in his country. There were serious and confirmed threats against his life. Fatal epidemics regularly ravaged his land. And he had begun to ponder whether the end of the world was at hand. So, what did he do? He got married. In extraordinary times, he decided to steep himself in the ordinary things of life.
Marrying a Nun
The year is 1525. Ever since Martin Luther had boldly attacked the rampant abuses of the church in 1517, his life had been in turmoil. Excommunicated by the Pope. Condemned as a heretic. Even fake-kidnapped by his supporters and hid away in a castle. Recently, the Peasant’s Revolt further upended stability in Germany. And, to top it all off, he was playing matchmaker for a group of nuns whose escape he had helped orchestrate—and one of them, Katharina von Bora, wanted him for her husband!
But surely this was no time for wedding bells. A man who was in the crosshairs of the authorities, who had a million pressing concerns swirling about him, and who thought the end of the world might be near—he might do many things, but embracing a thing so ordinary as becoming a husband and future father seemed irrational and unwise.
After a time, however, Luther did just that. He and Katie were married on June 13, 1525. In the years afterward, their home was full of their own children, as well as orphans, friends, and visitors.
Reflecting on Luther’s decision, Gerhard Forde writes, “What did [Luther] do when he thought the end was near? He got married! Now of all the ways to prepare for the coming Kingdom of God that is certainly not one which would occur to most.” Rather than doing something “awfully pious to impress the deity when he shows us,” Luther chose one of the most routine of human activities: getting married and raising children. Forde continues, “Why? Because, he reasoned, if God is coming, then a man ought to be found living as God intended him to live on this earth. He ought to be found being a human being, doing human things and taking care of the earth as God intended—not acting as if he were some sort of minor league God.” As he wrote in a letter to his friend, John Ruehel, “I shall take care that at my end I shall be found in the state for which God created me with nothing of my previous papal life about me,” (“The Revolt and the Wedding”).
When asked what he would do if he knew the end of the world was tomorrow, Luther is often cited as saying, “I would go out and plant a tree.” He might also have said, “I would get married.” Either when he died, or when Christ returned, Luther wanted to be as immersed in the ordinary, human life as possible.
Seize the Ordinary
As we find ourselves today in the middle of our own upheavals, I think we can learn much from this former priest and friar, who married a former nun, both of whom raised a family together. To anticipate your question: No, I do not think the end of the world is at hand. No, I do not think the Coronavirus is some plague found in Revelation. So, please, do not misunderstand me.
But, of course, that final day will eventually come. And until it does, we will face sporadic personal, familial, societal, and even cosmopolitan uncertainties and tribulations. In the lifetime of most of us in America, the greatest of these was the fallout from the attacks of September 11, 2001, as well as the recession seven years later. Today it’s COVID-19. Next year, or five years from now, who knows what it will be.
But when our worlds are shaken; when we’re tempted to panic and grow selfish; when it seems silly or irrational to behave like ordinary human beings doing ordinary human stuff; let’s remember Martin and Katie.
Of course, continue to abide by the standard precautions when any epidemic is going on. Wash your hands, yes, but also trust in the one who’s washed you into his body in the waters of baptism. Buy what you need at the grocery store, but also trust in the one who has bought you with the price of his blood. Pray for all the medical staff who are caring for the physical needs of your neighbors, but also trust in the great Physician of soul and body, who chastens and heals.
And do this: seize the ordinary. Live out your vocations as spouse, parent, child. Care for those whom you love. Go for a walk. Sit at your table and enjoy a meal with your family. Pray together. Get married. Make babies. In short, be an image-bearer of God by doing what he’s created you to do.
Whatever happens in the coming weeks and months, as followers of Jesus, let’s be found living out our ordinary lives in the joyful certainty that our lives, our hopes, and our resurrections are all in the hands that bear the beloved scars of mercy.