Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.’ (Exodus 7:1-5)

Until recently, plagues were somewhat unrelatable. They were phenomena that occurred somewhere else — far, far away geographically or temporally. Then 2020 happened.

Various commentators have noted that plagues, or pandemics as we now call them (sounds so much more scientific!), always evoke a range of spiritual, religious and/or superstitious responses. Plagues give rise to priests of various kinds – people who purport to make sense of it all, to provide answers (regardless of what you think of him, Anthony Fauci has undoubtedly been a high priest of Corona). Plagues also elicit a kind of moral reckoning — an exploration of what we might have done to bring this pestilence upon ourselves. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that the outbreak of COVID-19 was followed swiftly by a national reckoning on racial justice.

Most of all, plagues demand atonement. They demand that blame be assigned and blood be shed. Someone must be at fault for such a calamity, and made to pay the price. In ancient Egypt, it was the firstborn sons of Egypt who paid the price for Pharaoh’s sin when the angel of death passed over the nation.

As Christians, we believe that, to one degree or another, all of earthly life is a plague. We have all been infected by sin. We will all die — and it is all our fault. And yet, atonement has been made by someone else. Our great high priest sheds his own blood for our guilt. He cures our disease, delivers us from the pervasive pandemic of perversity. Because of Jesus, we are delivered from not only from fear and death, but also from the judgment of superstition and the need to blame.