On this day in 1631 the priest and poet John Donne died. He is known especially for writing sonnets and love poetry but he also wrote much religious poetry too and served as Dean of S. Paul's Cathedral. In one famous work--"The Flea", likely written whilst he was still a student,--a man tries to seduce a woman using a rather unusual metaphor: both he and she have been bitten by the same flea and now their separate blood mingles inside the flea’s body.
During this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, people are rightly increasingly concerned with environmental issues and the way that humanity has been treating the planet, some even saying that through this pandemic the Earth is giving us a warning or even getting revenge for what we have done. Such thoughts are not something John Donne was immune from either.
Even writing four hundred years ago, Donne seems all too aware of the inequality in how humanity treats the rest of creation. According to one commentator, Donne saw this 'two-dimensional treatment of animals, and…addressed what he saw as the inherent unfairness in perceiving them as strictly serving the interests of humans’. In one of his holy sonnets, he writes:
Why are we by all creatures waited on?
Why do the prodigal elements supply
Life and food to me, being more pure than I,
Simpler and further from corruption?
Why brook’st thou, ignorant horse, subjection?
Why dost thou, bull and boar, so sillily
Later in the poem, he goes on to reflect on this, and much like the unexpected comparison with the flea, compares this unequal treatment of animals by humans to Jesus’ untimely and cruel death on the cross at the hands of humanity:
But their Creator, whom sin, nor nature tied,
For us, His creatures, and His foes, hath died.
For us reading this today, as this natural calamity engulfs our planet and all living here, it raises many questions. Do we think humanity has taken its stewardship of the planet seriously enough? With Easter Sunday just two weeks away, what does the Easter story mean for us today? Let this be a time for us to reflect on these questions.
To end, a prayer for use today:
Most merciful God,
who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ
delivered and saved the world:
grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross
we may triumph in the power of his victory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
 Potter, P. (2012, 12 December). Why Are We by All Creatures Waited on? Emerging Infectious Diseases, 2098-2099.
The reflections here are written by members of our congregation.