Early one morning, you wake up from a restless night of sleep. Your head is pounding. Your body aches all over and even though you are bundled up, you’re chilled to the bone. Your skin is hot to the touch, a telling sign that you have a fever. Your muscles ache as you attempt to rise from bed, but you’re so exhausted that you stay under the covers instead. Right now, most reading this are thinking the word “Covid,” right? But these signs and symptoms could mean many different sicknesses.
Add tender, painful, and swollen lymph nodes in your armpits that are about the size of a chicken egg, and now we are talking about the Bubonic Plague, also known as the “Black Death.” This disease is caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, is naturally occurring, and most commonly spread by fleas on rodents. The first appearance of the plague was in the year 1346 AD in Mongolia. It quickly spread into and throughout Europe. It killed about 50% of the people that contracted it and upwards of 30% of an area’s population once the epidemic began.
All types of the plague were truly terrifying pestilences that decimated the population centers of Europe for centuries. This disease is still around today, is still deadly, and has no vaccination against it. However, because we can now diagnose and treat this disease more rapidly, a person can be cured of it. In the United States, there are about seven cases contracted per year, typically in the more remote areas of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and California. Thanks be to God for gifting us the ability to fight such diseases through modern medicine.
The Bubonic Plague of 1527 in Wittenberg, Germany was experienced firsthand by Martin Luther, about ten years after posting his ninety-five theses on the church’s door in Wittenberg. At the time, anyone who became ill was most likely terrified of losing their life; chances were that they would. It was during this particular plague that Martin Luther wrote the well-known hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” Luther knew that what people needed most, especially those who were on their death beds. He knew that they needed the Word of God; the saving Grace of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Luther drew his inspiration for the hymn from the beautifully written Psalm 46.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. ‘Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!’ The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” (Psalm 46:1–11).
Psalm 46 tells us that even if the earth itself, or its inhabitants, rise against us to do us harm, that God is with us always. All we must do is be still and know that He is God and that He will protect us and keep us in His perfect care forever. Nothing on this earth – no person, no nation, nothing – can take away the love that He has for us. God’s love conquers all of our fears, all of our shortcomings, all of our failures, and all of our sins. Praise be to God! Hallelujah!