I have to say, there is a part of this that doesn’t feel real. What I mean is that it’s Good Friday, but it doesn’t feel like Good Friday.
Sure the altar is bare. The crosses are draped with black. We are reading the Passion Gospel, but in this moment, there are but two of us here- Angie our organist and me.
On Good Friday, we should be here at the foot of the cross, praying in wonderment about this instrument of torture and death- imagining that we are among the crowd who shouted “Crucify him.” Among the crowds who lined the streets to taunt and throw excrement at the Jesus. No longer celebrated with palms and shouts of “Hosanna!” he is bloodied and beaten, forced to carry the weight of death itself, then nailed to it and lifted high among common thieves.
Hail King of the Jews, comes the mockery from the crowd with an anonymity that rivals cyber bullies on the internet.
Today should be a day of grief. But the church is empty- and I know it’s going to be empty tomorrow and the day after that.
We have been told to stay in our homes. Even more so now, we have been told that we shouldn’t be out at night between 11pm and 5am unless we’re going to work or the hospital or are a first responder. And that’s ok because I’ve always said that generally nothing good happens after 10pm.
So we are all isolated. And even though we are with our families… we find that we are alone.
And in a strange and peculiar way, on this Good Friday, this makes sense. Jesus was alone. All of his core disciples ran away, but some, Mary, wife of Cleopas and Mary Magdalene were there at the foot of the cross, but as he hung there dying, there was no one else hold him up, pray for him, call him. If they did from below they risked the ire of the crowd. In Matthew’s version of the Passion Jesus, says Eli, Eli Lema Sabacthani- which is my God my God why have you forsaken me?”
And as Jesus was alone on the cross, and as we are alone in our homes, maybe those words of Jesus have also crossed our lips, perhaps we wonder if God has forsaken the world in the midst of a pandemic. I don’t think Good Friday is the day to preach on the nuanced question of theodicy or how we reconcile the goodness of God with presence of evil and sickness in the world.
Today is a day about grief. And today is a day we not only grieve for our Lord, but we must also grieve what we have lost. For some of our students, it’s the routine of school, of clubs and sports, and prom and graduation; for others of us it’s going to gym or the “Y;” to kanikapila with our Ukulele group, gather or to chop vegetables and cook soup; serve outreach; go to the beach and lay in the sun on the sand and read a book; have a picnic with your family; there is the grieving that we will not be here together on Sunday to greet the risen Christ with shouts and songs of praise and then go our for brunch or gather with family in homes or whatever it is you do on Easter Morning.
On this Good Friday, I invite you to make a list of these and other things you grieve over as a result of this pandemic. There is some solace in that we are all in it together, but each of us is grieving something
we mourn what we have lost and can never get back.
Good Friday is a day were we sit with pain and tragedy. The death of Jesus is a meaningless death in some ways. He is wrongly accused, convicted and executed. And from all accounts, it seems that, on this day, evil wins. The religious leaders against Jesus, the Roman Empire, even the people who days ago paraded palms for him now reject him- all of them- have won. “It is finished.” He says, and he breathed his last and that is it.
But. Death is not the last word. There is more to come. There is yet mystery in these words for we who live on this side of death, but they reiterate the hope declared in Psalm 139, “If I make my bed in Sheol you are there.”
And in an instant, Good Friday takes a turn.
Jesus prays, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’ And in doing so offers a hope that transcends the moment A hope grounded in reconciliation and forgiveness.
With arms outstretched on the cross, God is reaching out in grace towards humanity and Jesus is God’s love in the flesh. This moment at the foot of the cross is the culmination of God’s story in the scriptures. A story of a God who pursues humanity in love to the very end and commits not to leaving Jesus in his suffering. Nor for that matter, you and me.
Here is a God that does not act in retribution and wrath but in compassion and mercy, and in love and grace.
But then again we should not be surprised at this, for God’s work in and through Jesus is all about transformation. God takes this cross, on which his only begotten Son is dying, and has for us changed it from being an instrument of torture and death to an instrument of life and hope. We claim this grief for our own and we lift it high enough and color it with stained glass and light it up that it is a beacon on a hill that can be seen from the road below and from the freeway.
Yes we grieve- we grieve for our Lord and we grieve for ourselves, for those who have lost someone to this Virus, and for the way our normal has been forever changed. Because we don’t know how long we will live like this or can live like this.
But let us also remember that Jesus also said, in three days I will rise. The night will give way to the dawn, darkness must give way to light; despair gives way to hope.
O death, O death, where is thy victory? Where, O death where is thy sting?
Death’s victory will be robbed. Even before the Easter morning we glimpse the power over which the darkness has no dominion. Today- this day, there, on the cross, grace is given. Love, divine love, has descended. And it lies there, incarnate.
The Rev. Daniel L. Leatherman is priest in charge of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church.