Being spared from COVID-19 doesn’t mean we are free from its consequences.
“Known unto God.”
The epitaph commonly used on the gravestones of nameless soldiers who died in battle could well be applied to official tallies of the infected and dead from COVID-19 in 2020. Despite public and private entities’ best efforts, it is estimated that actual numbers might never be known.¹
Current figures purportedly include thousands of Seventh-day Adventists who, in many countries, have also been infected. It is believed that hundreds of church members have lost their lives during the pandemic.² As it rages on, the pandemic seems to hit closer to home, as more Adventists say they know at least one relative or acquaintance who got infected or died from the virus.
CLEAN FROM THE PLAGUE
Leviticus 14 details the law lepers were expected to follow after they thought themselves cleansed. The text reads, “He shall be brought to the priest. . . . If the leprosy is healed in the leper, then the priest shall command to take for him who is to be cleansed two living and clean birds” (verses 2-4).
The following verses detail how the priest would command that “one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water” (verse 5). It adds, “As for the living bird, [the priest] shall take it . . . and dip . . . the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water. And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed from the leprosy, and shall pronounce him clean” (verses 6, 7).
Most Christian commentators point out the straightforward messianic undertones the ceremony entailed. An innocent bird sheds its blood, and the mixture of blood and clean, running water is sprinkled on the formerly diseased person, who is then declared clean and free to go.
DIPPED IN BLOOD
At the same time, others highlight the concurrent human elements of the ritual. The priest chooses, among two seemingly identical birds, which one shall live or die. After the selected bird is slaughtered, the priest dips the living bird “in the blood of the bird that was killed” (verse 6), to “let the living bird loose in the open field” (verse 7).
We might envision how difficult and even traumatic it could have been for the released bird to fly after its wings had been smeared in the blood of one of its own. Perhaps unable to soar in the sky because of its companion’s blood weight and stickiness, the bird would opt to wobble, dumbfounded, across the field.
Imagine the purported dialogue that would then ensue between two people who happened to come across that bird. “That bird is bleeding! Is it dying?” Upon closer inspection, the answer would come, “No, the bird is not dying. But it’s bleeding because somebody else has died!”
THEIR BLOOD IS ON US
Even if, by God’s grace, most of us are spared from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the burden of the many who were not will undoubtedly stay with us. Like the bird in Leviticus dipped in blood, we’ll carry the marks of those brothers and sisters who, in God’s unfathomable wisdom, must either endure long-term consequences of the virus on their bodies or were called to rest for a while.
It is the legacy of the living to make sure those who have succcumbed to the disease do not stay known only unto God. It is imposed upon us to tread along on their behalf until, free from any trace of blood, we can soar again. Together. COVID-19-free. Bursting with life.