Dean Sue has said repeatedly in her posts on prayerforliverpool.org that the current pandemic is a “long Good Friday.” Having recently undergone Good Friday during the pandemic, I can attest to the veracity of Dean Sue’s theological claim.
Good Friday does feel long. The liturgy of this day—when we can observe it—demands long minutes spent in contemplation “of those mighty acts” by listening to the Passion, kneeling before the wood of the cross as the Reproaches echo forward Jesus’ powerful lament, and staring at a barren altar without Sacrament.
COVID-19 has indeed placed many of us in a long Good Friday. Some of us cannot be present to wait at the bedsides of the dying, and some of us can’t even be near when we bury our dead. As economic uncertainty grows, more of us are going to go without what we need. And we still have to isolate, which will mean many of us will continue to feel utterly alone.
We have lost people we love because of this virus, in a similar way to losing the One who loves us on Calvary.
COVID-19 has also placed many of us in a long Holy Saturday. As the rhythm of Holy Week progresses, the long emptiness of Good Friday gives way to a similar emptiness on Holy Saturday—but it’s of a different kind. The altar is still bare, but there’s no liturgy to say that we haven’t already said. I have always felt impatient on Holy Saturday, excited for the pre-eminent Vigil liturgy that evening, but having to wait and watch before night falls and the paschal fire can be kindled once again.
For those of us stuck in isolation at the moment, the news isn’t helping—it’s slipping us into an anticipatory Holy Saturday mode. We long to be set free to go to work and play again with other households. I’m going bananas not being able to go into the Cathedral, which has come to feel like home.
The stone is still sealed over the entrance to the tomb.
If I’m honest, the idea that evil, when it happens to us, is inherently deserved or meant to randomly test us has never felt like an adequate explanation as to why we suffer. Evil is far more complicated than that—and like God, why and what it truly is will always just elude our understanding. Evil is not something we can explain or justify or even quantify. It is simply a given in the nature of our existence, and I think we can all agree that it is most certainly a fact of our own lives right now.
Here’s the Good News, though: Jesus gets it. Jesus knew what it was to suffer. His humanity and divinity were nailed on the tree. He was despised and rejected. He was beaten, flogged, and pierced. He died an agonizing death. And thanks be to God, right? Because the Cross of Christ, his Suffering, is balm for us in the shadow of death. We are not alone and can never be apart from the One who has endured it all before and continues to endure the burden with us.
Beyond death, isolation has been among the worst consequences of COVID-19 for many of us. But Christ, in whom we live and move and have our being, has the innate ability to be with us and know exactly what we are going through. We are known by Christ, and so loved. And while we still wait for the end to this virus, we can have solace in our Christian hope that resurrection will break forth in the end.
Break forth, O beauteous heav’nly light,
to herald our salvation;
He stoops to earth–the God of might,
our hope and expectation.
He comes in human flesh to dwell,
our God with us, Immanuel;
the night of darkness ending,
our fallen race befriending.
— Johan von Rist
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Eager to read more? Check out the “Meet the YASCers” page of the website of the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) of the Episcopal Church to find the blogs of my missionary colleagues: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/YASC/meet-yascers.