Tomorrow is Good Friday, for those of us who observe that.
Or at least i think it is. Last week i misread my google calendar and announced it was Easter last weekend but then my friends and family quickly bought me another week. It’s been really hard to stay up to date with days during lockdown. But i think we are on a Thursday.
i had some thoughts about Good Friday last night and wanted to get them out a day early so that if anyone does read this, there is time to reflect and possibly share those reflections with others.
What Good Friday and the corona lockdown have in common
That feels like a bit of a stretch right? A pastor reaching for a stretch analogy and you know that you are going to have to suspend all disbelief to follow this rabbit trail.
But as long as you remember that an analogy is only as strong as the point it is trying to make, i do think there is something quite naturally in there. Please bear with me for a few minutes and see if you agree.
The name ‘Good Friday’ has always been a bit of a misnomer and might be as strange to the disciples of Jesus as if they heard a modern day person uttering the phrase: Let’s go to church. [Peter, probably: “But we are the church. What is that dude talking about? And why did I just say “dude”?]
Because it is only good in hindsight. Everything about it looked completely and utterly bleak and hopeless and soul-destroying and depressing.
The man this group of young men had left everything for and been following for three years – who they believed was the Messiah that the Jewish nation had been waiting so long for – was dead. He had been killed by the Roman authorities and everything they had put their faith and hope and belief in was over. Done, finished, kicked to the ground, literally nailed to a piece of wood. It really was finished.
In modern day South Africa on the other hand, there is a disease that is literally laying waste to the world. A million and a half people [that we know of] have been confirmed to have the disease; more than 80 thousand people have died. Those numbers are only going to get much much worse.
Friday for South Africans, who will be entering day 15 of lockdown, joining millions of people around the world in various states of self-isolation, physical distancing, quarantine and lockdown, does not look like a Good Friday at all. A scary number of jobs and businesses are facing all sorts of trouble as they battle to stay afloat and we literally will be entering a new world whenever the announcement comes that lockdown is over, which is very likely not going to be a week from now.
i don’t think it’s that Friday becomes Good Friday because of what happens on Sunday. i think Friday was always Good Friday but we [the audience of this cosmic play] get to to a double take as we realise on Sunday why Friday was so good.
The Friday-Sunday was always a combo. It wasn’t like Friday happened and then God was like, “Oh no. What to do? What to do?” and then came up with a good game changer to fix all the things… we see too much in the prophets and in Jesus own words to know that God was in on the joke.
With the lockdown many of us are currently experiencing, there is a sense of us being ‘in on the joke’.
Not because i am suggesting any of this is funny at all – please understand my use of the saying – but rather because in South Africa we have the advantage of being able to learn from what has happened in other countries.
Because of a death on Good Friday, millions of lives were saved.
Because of all the negativity and difficulty and uncomfortability [which we need to remember is completely relative – we can say ‘we are all experiencing the same thing’ right now but someone in Constantia is NOT experiencing what someone in Khayelitsha is going through. Nor is someone in Diep River!] and death that might be linked to this lockdown period [a month of Good Friday?] hundreds of thousands of lives might be saved. Perhaps even millions.
What is waiting for us on the other side of this time is what makes this time good. And in our case, maybe not particularly good, because this feels like a ‘lesser of two evils’ scenario where everyone is scrambling to hopefully help us get to the least destructive outcome. But it is still arguably better than what would have happened without it.
It is perhaps helpful to note that knowing how Sunday turns out does not make Friday any more pleasant. But it perhaps does make it easier to bear.
When you are reading the bible story for the first time and have no idea what the outcome will be, Good Friday must seem like an absolute tragedy. Like the two guys on the road to Emmaus, “We thought he was…” A sense of hopelessness, of having been beaten, a questioning of everything this Jesus said He was and maybe even starting to wonder if you really experienced everything you thought you did when you were with Him.
Once you know the story and know how incredible the resurrection is going to be, it doesn’t take away from the tragedy of the Friday at all, but it fills you with a spark of hope. The idea that everything is going to be okay.
Everything is not going to be okay in South Africa, or in the world. The world is going to need to enter into a time of collective grief after this whole ordeal has been overcome because the loss of life is going to have been overwhelming. But at the same time, given the trajectory of what could have been, there will be some justified reason to celebrate. When we hear talk of close to eighty thousand lives having been saved in China from the reduction of pollution; or when we hear that the murder rate in South Africa has been dramatically reduced and where nature in many parts of the world seems to be self-correcting. Every life that is lost is always a tragedy, but when we hold the number of lives lost against those which could have been, the lockdown will hopefully see for the ‘Good Friday’ it was.
Make time to Easter
As lockdown days add up, they tend to blur into each other. Many of us struggle to know which day it is. Those of us who are busy tend to be busy traversing from one Zoom call to another. We are having more meetings that we possibly would have had if this disease had never arrived.
But in these times, whether of busy or of boredom, where the focus might be survival or trying to maintain sanity, i want to encourage you to make some time this weekend. To pay attention to the Good Friday and the resurrection Sunday. And the eerily quiet day of waiting in hope or lack of hope that falls in between.
Easter will look different this year, but don’t let it pass by in the blur. Perhaps because of the nature of your context this year’s Easter can be more significant than ever. Push pause, stop even. Close all the screens. Open the Word. Light a candle. Break a piece of bread and have it with a glass of wine – commune with those in your commune!
Don’t rush the Friday death.
Don’t hurry too quickly to the Sunday resurrection.
Sit with the death and as you do, spend some time aware of all of the death that the world is sitting with right now.
Grieve. Let the full weight of it hit you.
Lean into that. Cry. Wail. Question.
As you think of how Mary and the disciples are affected by the death of Jesus, take some time thinking about the homeless and those struggling with mental health issues and those who are living in spaces of abuse or violence or fear. Think about those for whom marriage or parenting feels like a complete struggle right now. And of those who are by themselves and struggling with that.
Don’t rush the Friday death.
Don’t hurry too quickly to the Sunday resurrection.
But when you do allow yourself to get there, i hope you have the means to find some way to feast.
Lean into the celebration. Into the hope. Not just for this life for you but for everyone around you, and for the life to come.
Dream of a better world that might emerge after this is all over.
Sit in the Love of God that loved so much God was willing to demonstrate that love in the most powerful way possible.
Through self sacrifice.
Lean into the ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ and really spend some time thinking what that means for you now [and who is my neighbour] and what that might mean for you [and your resources] once this time is done.
Tomorrow is Good Friday.
Let it be a good Friday. Because of what will follow as a result of you observing it.