Tag Archives: Coronavirus

The Masque of the Red Death

Read John 3:16-21

“How long, you simpletons, will you insist on being simpleminded? How long will you mockers relish your mocking? How long will you fools hate knowledge? Come and listen to my counsel. I’ll share my heart with you and make you wise.”  (Proverbs 1:22-23, NLT)

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge fan of Gothic Horror, and especially a huge fan of Edgar Allan Poe. There are so many Poe stories and poems that have caught my fancy throughout my life. The Raven, Annabel Lee, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado, The Black Cat, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Facts in the Case of M. Vademar, are some of my favorites.

Another favorite not mentioned above is The Masque of the Red Death. This story has a special place in my heart because it speaks a truth that is timeless. Especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, where countless deaths could have been prevented, this story is one that is sure to hit home for just about everyone. There is no doubt that, while Poe’s story takes place in some medieval fiefdom, it is just as relevant and timely now as it was in his day.

Poe was a master storyteller and The Masque of the Red Death is a parable that teaches us this truth: Death is the great leveller. In death, truly all human beings are equal. All human beings, no matter whether they are rich or poor, healthy or sick, ruler or ruled…all human beings are equal in the monstrous jaws of death.

For some, this may be a morbid tale; however, for those who suffer injustice and oppression, this is a liberating tale. In it, Poe tells of the “Red Death” sweeping over the land and killing countless people. This plague would cause people to bleed from all orifices, including their poors. Alongside of the bleeding came sudden dizziness and sharp pains. Within a half-hour of contracting the plague, the victim was dead.

By the time this plague had ravaged the land, with 50% of the population dead, Prince Prospero decided to hold a huge ball in which he invited all of the rich and wealthy nobles to come to one of his palaces. Upon their arrival, he had the doors welded and hammered shut so that nothing could come in or out. He then held a great masquerade, celebrating their wealth, power and protection from the Red Death. The masquerade was lavish, opulent, and even disgusting in it’s gaudy and irreverent nature. It was an free-for-all in excess. While Poe doesn’t articlate this, the Roger Corman adaptation with Vincent Price rightly has Prince Prospero declaring one rule for the entirety of the masquerade: “Nobody is to wear red.”

Of course, upon the striking of midnight, a mysterious masquerader shows up to the scene. He’s someone that no one noticed until that very moment and, as if in mockery of the whole opulent masquerade, he is dressed in red. Upon closer examination, his clothes are spoted in blood and his mask/face is that of a dead corpse. Outraged, Prospero waves off the music, the festivities pause, and he charges at the red figure with a drawn dagger. At that moment, the figure turns at Prospero who stops dead, literally, in his tracks, cries out in horrid agony and drops dead face-first on the floor.

Then the attendants rush over to attack the figure in red and the seize him and tear away his cloak and mask only to find that there is no physical figure beneath it.  One by one, the revellers drop dead of the Red Death and all of the halls are sprinkled and speckled with blood. “And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”

This parable should be a warning to us all, especially those of us who are more privileged than others. Just because we can does not mean we should. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic I have seen leaders, and those supported said leaders, defying common sense, precautionary measures, such as wearing masks and social distancing. Many selfish people have stomped their feet, crying foul over their “rights” being infringed. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people have died as a result of this deadly virus.

Sadly, even government officials have proven to not be immune from COVID-19. From the president, to White House Staffers, to the Senate and House of Representative, to even political figures such as Herman Cain, have contracted this virus. Sadly, that cost Mr. Cain his life. But it didn’t stop there. CNN host Chris Cuomo caught it and suffers from Long Hauler Syndrome, as have other media personalities, Broadway and Hollywood actors, musicians, and virtually people from every elite place in society.

Poe’s parable reminds us that death is the great leveller. No human being can defy nor avoid death. It comes for us all at some point. Whether a virus, an infection, a heart attack, a stroke, or old age, death is something we all will experience and go through. There is no hope for escaping it.

That said, those who place their faith in Jesus Christ, who CONQUERED DEATH, will experience new and eternal life beyond death. The question for us is this: do we look to ourselves, our wealth, our status, and our arrogant pride to protect us from death, or do we look toward Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, to rescue us from the death we will inevitably experience? Prince Prospero, and those like him, made a mockery of Jesus Christ, sought their own means of salvation, and ultimately realized that approach was an EPIC FAIL. Let us not make the same mistake.

“Pale Death beats equally at the poor man’s gate and at the palaces of kings.” – Horace

Lord, help me to abandon seeking my own salvation and, instead, to humbly turn to you for salvation. Amen.

The Plan 2.0

Read John 9:1-17

“Whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.” (1 John 5:4 NRSV)

VME-The-PlanWe, as human beings, have a very difficult time dealing with the unknown. We absolutely desire to be in control and nothing seems more “out of control”, then uncertainty and the great unknown. Right now, our world is going through traumatic and fatal pandemic that is leaving everyone in the dark, confused, isolated, in shock, and wondering why any of this is “allowed” to happen. It is in such moments, especially when we are caught off guard, that we begin to ask the question, “Why?”

This makes me think of the film, “Miracles From Heaven,” which tells the true story of a young girl who has a rare, serious, and terminal illness that causes her to not be able to digest food. This, of course, leaves her in considerable amounts of pain most of the time. Her life, at the age of 9 (or so), was relegated to bed rest in hospital rooms. In the midst of it, her family was seeking answers as to what they could do in order to cure their daughter of this illness. Yet, doctor after doctor could not even come up with what the illness was, let alone why it was or how they could cure it. One doctor, who was a renowned specialist at the renowned Children’s Hospital in Boston, was able to put his finger on what the disease was; however, with that said, he was also certain there really was no cure for it. All they could do was try to give the little girl pain medicine to keep her comfortable and wait for illness to take it’s inevitable course.

In the midst of their struggle to help their daughter, they turned to their church for spiritual and emotional support. While all certainly intended to provide that, what the family really got was a bucket load of terrible theology. Some congregation members were asking the mother if there was anything she or her husband did, or if there was anything the little girl did, to bring this terrible illness down on them. The pastor, thankfully, was not a part of this…and did try to support the family, however, the response of some of the congregation members was enough to drive the mother further and further away from her faith. What kind of God would punish an innocent little 9 year old because of the sins of her parents? What kind of God would punish a 9 year old girl, whose not even old enough to be held accountable according to Biblical standards, for her own sins?

While, I will not spoil the rest of the film (and I highly recommend that you watch it if you are able), I will say that THEOLOGY MATTERS. We often think that our suffering and struggles are a part of GOD’s PLAN. We will try to comfort people who are struggling by telling them that “they’ll be okay,” that “things will work out in the end,” and that “this is all a part of God’s plan” in order to “test them” and “help them grow.” Or, more judgmental people will try and speculate on what sorts of wrong people did to “deserve” the things that have befallen them. Both lines of theology are appalling, egregious, and dangerous. What kind of God causes people to suffer in order to help them grow? What kind of God blinds people, cripples them, puts them into gas chambers, or kills their family members as a part of “the plan?” What kind of God gives us “what we deserve?” Certainly the not Grace-filled God of Christianity.

Just as Jesus Christ did with his disciples, he is calling us to rethink our theology and to be careful in it. God’s plan is not to hurt, punish, or kill people as some sort of twisted means to an end. That never was God’s plan, nor will it ever be God’s plan. People have articulated it that way, even in the Bible, but only out of ignorance. Overall, the Scripture is consistent in what God’s plan is: to LOVE creation and to be present in relationship with it. That is God’s plan. Things happen, circumstances take us by storm, and life hits us in various ways, but GOD’s LOVE for us and GOD’s PRESENCE with us NEVER changes. God’s plan is to be with us and to be with others through us. That is the plan…and it certainly is a MIRACLE when we acknowledge the plan and LIVE INTO IT.

“You know what I noticed? Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plan is horrifying.” – The Joker
Lord, even when things do not go according to plan, you are present with me. Help me to acknowledge that and be a witness to your presence in my life and the lives of others. Amen.

Coronavirus Update…

IMG_6127To all of my readers,

I pray that the grace of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, be upon you all! As you know, the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic has spread virulently throughout the world and that there is no place that really has avoided the spread. I live and serve in New Jersey, USA, and we are in an area that the virus is spreading exponentially. Our state as shut down bars, restaurants, movie theaters, and there is an 8 p.m. curfew here that will continue throughout the foreseeable future. What’s more, our president and federal government has asked that groups of no more than 10 people gather at any given time. Thus, as a pastor, I have had to make the hard decision of closing our place of worship and moving to an online format. I have also been placed on a Coronavirus Response Team for our Skylands District of the United Methodist Church of Greater NJ. All of this has taken tremendous amount of time and energy and, as a result, I have not had the chance to write this week’s devotions. I am fully planning on getting back into the swing of things next week, the Lord willing. I thank you all for your readership, understanding, your patience, and your prayers.

In the mean time, check out this message of encouragement I gave to my church on our Facebook Page:

With Love in Christ,

Rev. Todd Lattig