It feels weird to celebrate Good Friday during a pandemic. As we see infection rates and death tolls rising – in our local communities, our countries, and the world – how can we call a day of death as “good”?
Jesus said: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” As the rationing of ventilators and other medical/healthcare equipment becomes a bigger reality each day, we’ve heard stories of this in action. But where is the joy, where is the hope?
As we move from the highs of last Sunday, Palm Sunday – the waving of palm fronds, the celebration of Jesus’ arrival into the Holy City, the counter-parade to uplift the egalitarian Divine empire instead of the oppressive Roman empire – we may be well-familiar with the stories of Holy Week, but it may be more poignant as we are all going through a collective trauma.
(And, frankly, for many communities – Black people, Indigenous people, other people of color, queer people, feminine people, disabled people, autistic people, underpaid people, people with shelter/housing instability, people who do not subscribe to the dominant religion in their area, anyone who has felt oppression firsthand – the collective trauma of oppression has very real effects on day-to-day life and long-term living, and the idea of ‘celebrating’ or even just ‘commemorating’ death can be deep-hitting or re-traumatizing at any time, regardless of a pandemic.)
But here, in the time of a pandemic (and covid-19 is currently the biggest cause of death in the U.S.), in the context of faith/spirituality based on the teachings of Jesus, what meaning do we find from Good Friday? What Hope will take us through the Vigil of Holy Saturday, especially these days when every day seems to last…an eternity? What Joy can even be brought by Easter Sunday?
In the time of the crucifixion, Jerusalem was under direct rule of the Roman Empire (and Emperor Tiberius Julius Caesar) through oversight by governor/prefect Pontius Pilate, and even local administration by civil and religious leaders who were under the control of the empire. There are a lot of unjust power structures in place. And when Jesus messed with The System, the people (regardless of whether they were “good” or “bad” as individuals) allowed the system to take precedence over everything else.
So on Good Friday we see this death, which perhaps should not have happened, because of the influences of power.
And today, we may observe that there are indeed a lot of deaths, which perhaps should not have happened and could have been prevented. And many of these deaths are because of the unfair distribution of medical resources and healthcare in general, and the biases against certain groups of people, and ongoing wars of bragging rights and showmanship and self-importance…all of these because of the influences of power and the desire to assert power over others, even during a time where collective needs should be obvious.
When mass graves are being built, when people without housing are being forced into chalk-drawn “social distancing” squares while nearby hotels have hundreds of empty rooms, when Black people and other people of color are dying at disproportionate rates, when churches are becoming hot spots for viral transmission because they continue to hold in-person services…
It’s hard to feel hopeful or joyous. Sadness, despair, or anger are too prominent.
How can we tolerate messages like “the sorrow of Good Friday is fine because Jesus will rise on Easter, alleluia indeed!” during times like these?
Did Jesus’ loved ones and followers not mourn after his death? Did Martha not mourn the death of her brother Lazarus even though she believed in the resurrection on the last day?
The hope of Easter does not erase our feelings of sadness over terrible death and suffering now. We may even be feeling the words of Jesus on the cross: My God, my God, why have you forsaken us?
It’s okay to just mourn.
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