“I remember a story about a Rabbi during a natural disaster.
He was asked how he could explain such a tragic act of God.
The Rabbi answered that the disaster was an act of nature.
The act of God occurred when people stepped up to help each other.”
(Meme wisdom from Facebook)
Well, we are in the midst of Holy Week. A week of high stress and anxiety for Jesus’ followers as they rode the foreboding rollercoaster from the entry into Jerusalem with crowds singing Hosanna! through the upheaval in the temple and a final meal together. Of course, as we know, the week ended with Jesus on a cross then in a grave. It was the end.
Liturgically there are two things I especially love about Good Friday. One is that the conclusion of worship is in sombre darkness, even while we hold the hope for resurrection (because we know how the story ends). On Good Friday, we remember the death of Jesus, and that he was sealed in a tomb. When the stone is rolled across the entrance of the cave, it is the end – real and final. Hope is gone, and life will never be the same again for those who have known him. For me, worship on Good Friday is marked by darkness and silence, with the opportunity to sit quietly and contemplate what the death of Jesus on the cross means for us personally.
The other thing I love is that the Good Friday liturgy doesn’t actually end. Yes, people are sent out, but there is no ‘Benediction’ because worship, or the liturgy, continues through to Easter Sunday. I have often marked the end of a Good Friday service with the words, “We will return when there is good news to share.” That’s because Good Friday is not the end of the story.
For all of us, Easter is going to be very different this year. The services we are used to (and have possibly been planning for many weeks before COVID19 caused so many changes) will not be happening in the way we expected they would – even a few weeks ago. We will not be gathering. And maybe that feels ok for Good Friday, as it gives us a different opportunity to ponder and reflect on the story of the cross. We can pause in our own homes, sit in silence (unless the kids are making demands on us!), and consider the message of the cross through the lens of worship resources provided to us, or by us, in a different way this year. But for Easter Sunday – a day when we celebrate new life, new hope, new beginnings? This feels very strange.
A number of years ago I was severely reprimanded by a member of my congregation (it was in South Australia). The Easter Sunday service was not marked by great joy and celebration. Lent had been marked by a member of my family and a member of the congregation both trying to take their own lives, a few other people in the congregation were suffering severe mental health issues, and it was a time of stress and anxiety in my own journey. The message on that Easter Day was that the resurrection happens whether we are ready to hear it or not. And if we are not ready to celebrate, if we are caught up in our grief and suffering, Christ is still risen (He is risen indeed!) and will be waiting for us, journeying alongside us, gently calling our name, until we are ready to recognise him.
In this weird time of physical distancing, when we feel the world is topsy turvy and question whether life will ever be “the same” again, as we head into Easter, I pray that we will have the honesty to grieve what we feel we have lost, and to listen for Jesus calling our name and inviting us into new life that is filled with hope, joy, and love. It won’t be the same, but by the grace of God it can be so much more than we have known and experienced before.
Blessings and peace,