New Wineskins for a Pandemic
Updated: Jul 28, 2022
No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, “The old is good enough.” (Luke 5:37-38, Matthew 9:17, Mark 2:22 NASB)
At 9:15am, every Tuesday for the past three weeks, the doorbell rang. Each time, I ran to the door with a smile on my face. There were two paper grocery bags full of groceries on the doormat. A few feet away, on the first or second step, stood a smiling Heidi. Oh wow! There she was, in person!!
By 10:30am, I pulled into the back of Jubilee Reach and unloaded several grocery bags, food for families in need. There I saw… Norm and Lynn! Marj! Beth! In the flesh! There were no hugs. No close contact. We were eager to hear in person, “How are you doing? What are you doing?” After the shortest of conversations, driving away, I felt I’d drunk the most delicious spring water, fresh from the ground. And felt nostalgia for the good old days!
Those good old days, way back in early March—a mere seven weeks ago—were great, weren’t they? But whether we want it or not, God is doing something new, as Lynn reminded us in our first Zoom prayer meeting of the pandemic era. I don’t credit God with creating a deadly virus, but I do think God is pouring new wine of His presence and love all over the place, a vast good confronting vast evil.
Here in Washington state, look what’s new. Masked men and women. Lost jobs. Crowded, chaotic households. Closed businesses, parks and even trails. Trips not taken, parties canceled, memorials postponed. Church building empty.
But new wineskins are emerging too. We’re seeing people’s faces at church in new ways—on the computer. Those photo collages of church families are like a group hug. We’re meeting people on Zoom that we’ve rarely talked to in brick-and-mortar church. Pre-service prayer is booming.
And a good old tool, the phone, is resurrected. I now have daily phone contact with a sister in my Bible study group. We actually talk, and we pray, too. Each of these sisters is a unique wineskin for the love of God, and I’m getting to taste a new wine every day!
Our eyes are open to see new things. We’re noticing more. Like public health, for the first time. Why can’t I visit my mom at the nursing home? What’s going on in Kirkland, Los Angeles, New York, New Orleans. And in Milan? In Wuhan?
Where we might once have had an illusion of self-sufficiency, the illusion is gone. Hamburgers for dinner? Meat-processing plants have been hit with so many employee deaths, they’re closing. Need to get a death certificate from the county? The office is closed. Desperately need to retreat to a coffee shop to recharge? Tough luck. School is out, seemingly forever. We love our kids, but how is this supposed to work?? So much of our lives depends upon others.
Seeing our interdependence is good. As our understanding grows, the love of God is finding new expressions. And our faith grows, because new sight isn’t taking us to certainty. Many Jesus-followers are feeling an urgency to pray and pray much more.
And when we pray, we readily pop from praying for personal concerns to whole cities or industries, or the federal, state or county government. It’s routine to pray for health workers and hospitals, Dr. Fauci and researchers; those who are sick or dying and the families of the dead; gig economy workers, grocery store workers, parents working from home while taking care of kids, and front-line workers unsheltered. Our empathy muscles are flexing. Strangers aren’t so strange anymore.
While settling my dad’s estate, my calls took me to customer service agents working from home all over the country and even in Honduras. At the end of the call, we’d ask, “How are you doing where you are with COVID-19?” Often, I felt a nudge to ask, “May I pray for you?”
Prayer and empathy lead to action. We’re all asking, “how can we help?” and looking for new wineskins. The Seattle Times now prints a section titled, “How to help those affected by coronavirus pandemic.” For God’s people, prayer is just the beginning.
Remember how God turned murder—Jesus’ death—into the most comprehensive act of love ever in history? There’s a terrible pandemic going on right now. But through it, God is creating new wineskins to pour His love into the world. And His mercy is new every morning. Let’s roll!