Good Friday 2020
Can Good Friday still be good in the time of the coronavirus pandemic? Of course, that it can. Good Friday is good not because the goodness of this day is somehow dependent on us, on how we feel or how we chose to look at it. The goodness of this day depends on one thing only, on what happened on the original Good Friday in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
Today, we look not to ourselves, but to the cross of Jesus. We read and reflect on the Passion of the Lord, and we are drawn to stand at the foot of the Cross - with Mary, the sorrowful mother of Our Lord, and with John, the disciple whom he loved.
John the Evangelist takes us into that most intimate moment of the Passion by allowing us to hear the words Jesus speaks firstly to his mother: ‘Woman, this is your Son’, and secondly to John: ‘Here is your mother’ (J 19.26-27).
This is a moment of merciless separation, of an agonizing suffering felt by the three of them. Jesus, hanging on the cross and dying, remains out of their reach. They cannot touch him or offer him any comfort during this last hour. Despite standing so near the cross they are not able to touch him. They are forced to keep their distance.
This moving scene presents us with the picture of Jesus, the Son of God, in solidarity with every person dying in isolation, without his or her loved ones even being able to watch at the bedside. In this difficult time of social distancing, which for those who are losing their loved ones is not only difficult but also utterly agonising, God remains close to each and every one of us.
It might not feel like it at times. We may feel angry with God and, plunged into the darkness of pain, find that trusting in God’s presence is the last thing we want or are able to do. Even then, however, there is a place for us at the foot of the cross.
Jesus too experienced the sense of abandonment by God. In Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts of the Passion, we hear Jesus cry from the cross: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Mt 26.46, Mk 15.34); and, both in Matthew and Mark, these were the last words Jesus spoke before taking his last breath.
If all you want to say to God today is, ‘Why is this all happening to us? Where are you? Why have you left us?’, then know that your doubts, your anger, even your sense of being forsaken by God, can be offered in prayer.
The Words of Psalm 22 can help give shape to such a prayer of desolation and doubt. For when the Psalmist eventually says to God, ‘Be not far away, O Lord; you are my strength; hasten to help me’ (Ps 22.18), we know that this expression of trust is not naïve but comes from a place of deep anguish caused by the experience of untamed suffering.
Today, as we gaze on the cross of Jesus, we can be sure that in our isolation and sorrow, even in our doubts and sense of God’s absence, we are not alone. As the writer of the letter to the Hebrews reminds us, ‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin’ (4.15).
How did Jesus pray? ‘With loud cries and tears’. He prayed ‘to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission’ (Heb 4.7).
We know that after Good Friday comes the silence of Holy Saturday and then joyful noise of the Resurrection.
This year the noise will need to wait until we can meet together again, but joy can already enter our hearts and our homes. For joy is not simply happiness, but it is born out of that hope we discover in the Cross of Christ, the hope over which death does not have the last word.
Don’t forget that Good Friday still is and will remain good, and Easter Day still is and will remain the day of joy and resurrection.
May you have a joyful and safe Easter.