A Sermon for Good Friday in the Midst of the COVID-19 Global Pandemic - April 10, 2020
Good Friday is a strange day. But its very strangeness offers us a number of gifts. This year, all that is happening in the world brings these gifts of Good Friday into sharp focus.
So, what are the gifts of Good Friday?
First, there is a heaviness to Good Friday. Good Friday marks the day when Jesus is executed on a cross. And he’s executed after being after being betrayed by one friend and abandoned by most of his other friends. He’s tried in a sham trial by a coalition of corrupt leaders from the temple and the occupied government. This is a heavy and painful story.
Right now, the world is filled with heavy and painful stories. I find that I can’t watch the news for long. The stark reports, day after day, of death tolls and inadequate protective gear break my heart. Then, when medical personnel on the front lines describe what they are seeing and experiencing, it becomes too much to bear. I have to shut off the TV. On top of all that, there’s the pain and grief of those who have lost loved ones to this disease.
Good Friday reminds me that Jesus himself experienced pain and suffering that was heavy and difficult. Through the miracle of the incarnation, our God has lived into heavy and painful moments. We are not alone. God is in the midst of this with us. That reminder is one gift of Good Friday.
Another paradoxical gift of Good Friday is the ugliness of crucifixion. Being crucified is an ugly, painful, and gruesome way to die. And, what’s worse, in his gospel, John tells us that those who loved Jesus the most – the beloved disciple and a number of women (including Jesus’ mother Mary), gathered at the cross to witness his ugly death. It must have been horrifying for those who loved Jesus so much to watch his suffering. When we hear this story from John’s Gospel on Good Friday, all that ugliness comes into sharp focus.
On Monday, David and I watched a British SkyTV special about the coronavirus. Reporter Stuart Ramsey went to Bergamo, a small city in Lombardy, Italy. COVID-19 has devastated Bergamo. Ramsey interviewed the mayor of Bergamo and a man who’d lost a family member to the corona virus. Ramsey and his crew shot footage of emergency rooms and ICUs. The pain was absolutely palpable in every scene.
Today, I’m thinking about those scenes again, through the lens of Good Friday. I’m drawing strength and courage from the courage of the beloved disciple and the women who bore witness to Jesus’ suffering from their vantage point at the foot of the cross.
Yet another gift of Good Friday can be found in the liturgy itself. It’s so very different from what we usually do when we gather to worship. The service is beautiful and poignant. It doesn’t follow our usual worship rhythm. I’m almost haunted by its starkness. And this year, it’s even starker than usual, since we are gathered virtually, each in our own home.
When it became clear that we would be worshiping in this new ways for some time, I started thinking about how to translate all of our in-person worship into online worship. Good Friday was the service that gave me the last trouble! It’s already so stripped down. I wonder what we can learn from our Good Friday liturgy as we continue to worship in new ways for the duration of COVID-19.
A final gift of Good Friday is the Eucharistic fast. Good Friday is the one day, by tradition, when clergy absolutely do not celebrate the Eucharist. Some churches, like St. Francis, usually offer communion from the reserved sacrament on Good Friday. St. Thomas, and several other churches I’ve served, have observed a Eucharistic fast on Good Friday and don’t serve communion from the reserved sacrament. While a Eucharistic fast was not part of my tradition growing up, I’ve learned to appreciate how fasting from communion on Good Friday is one more way of experiencing the dislocation that is this day.
I miss being together as a community. And I feel sad that our fast from the Eucharist isn’t just a Good Friday thing this year. And, I wonder how the Good Friday Eucharistic fast might help us to strengthen our spiritual muscles for our ongoing fast from the body and blood of Christ.
I don’t know how you are experiencing this Good Friday. It feels different to me. This year, it’s much easier for me to live into these difficult gifts that Good Friday offers us.
Good Friday gives us the gift of liturgically sitting in the midst of pain and suffering. Good Friday reminds us that Jesus has been where we are: he experienced betrayal, suffering, pain, and death. And our Good Friday liturgy, with its starkness and its Eucharistic fast, can strengthen us for new ways of worship in these days.
On this Good Friday, we have been given a gift. We have been given a liturgical place to sit with all that feels horrible and overwhelming about COVID-19, and any other struggle we might be facing.
These days are hard, friends. Let the wisdom of the church and the experience of our Lord Jesus hold you up in them.
I'm Fran Gardner-Smith. I'm an Episcopal priest, a wife, a grandmother, a feminist, a writer, and an artist.