Good Friday in the midst of COVID

It’s empty.  Well, not entirely empty.  I’m standing in my church sanctuary at Tenth Presbyterian and it’s Good Friday.  There will be no choral service this evening.  Choir hasn’t met for almost a whole month.  And I haven’t seen my choir family since Christmas when I came home from Florida.

My pastor is here.  My music director is here.  And a few others are here to make the livestream go off smoothly.  But I’m here in the organ loft, looking over the music I’ll be offering as a soloist and as leader of hymns.  It seems so strange to stand in this space and not see it full of people, see my familiar faces greeting me, looking for the few close friends I have.  In a lot of ways, perhaps this season of remembering holy week is very much in tune with how it felt all those years ago.

I know what you’re thinking.  “Goodness Suzannah, you just always have to get so deeply emotional and turn everything into a metaphor or symbol of something bigger.”  And usually, I would just keep these musings to myself.  I know I can sometimes see things or feel things too deeply.  But I don’t think that’s the case right now.  On that Good Friday, all those years ago, Jesus stood alone (but not alone) in the Garden of Gethsemane.  His disciples were in the garden with him, but they had all fallen asleep.  I know I would’ve been right there with them–any of my friends can tell you I have the “gift” of falling asleep anywhere, under any circumstance, in under 10 minutes–not realizing the depth of what was going on, or what was about to happen.  Jesus had His Heavenly Father to talk to… and while Christ is fully God and fully man, his humanity felt isolated and lonely.  He knew what He had to do, and He knew just how painful it would be.  Physically.  And spiritually.

That following Sunday, the new Sabbath, the tomb was empty.  The stone rolled away, and the body of Christ was gone.  “But Mary [Magdalene] stood weeping outside the tomb…” (John 20:11a).  Mary was alone (or so she thought).  She stood at a seemingly empty place and wept.  For things were not how she wanted them to be.  Her Messiah was dead.  His body now gone.  “How do I…how do we go on from here?” is something that may have crossed her mind as she mourned yet again the “reality” that Jesus was gone.

Right now, the world seems to be falling apart.  I say “seems to be” because there’s this small voice of reason, the Holy Spirit I’d wager, reminding me that nothing is out of God’s hand.  And nothing is too big for Him to heal.  I don’t pretend to know His mind, or how He will redeem this virus.  I don’t know how He “will restore[d] to [us] the years that the swarming locust has eaten” (Joel 2:25a).  Obviously, these are months not years that God will restore.  But He will restore them.  

But right now, it feels like we are in Gethsemane…asking God if He could just let this cup pass from us.  We are outside an empty tomb, weeping over a loss we didn’t see coming.  Please understand me that I am not equating Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane to us going through a time of pandemic.  And I am not equating the “loss” of our Messiah to the loss of time or events or people.  But what I am suggesting, is that this strange and truly tragic time of uncertainty and loss, and desire to be released from a sinful world, is very real.

But here is the good news: these passages in God’s Word tell us TRUTH.  We are not alone.  It may feel that way.  And we see that God, Jesus, His children, are all allowed to acknowledge that feeling.  God lets us name our feelings–just look at David in the Psalms! But He does not want us to stay there.  And He won’t let us stay there.  Jesus knows that He is not alone in the Garden, that He will come out the other side of this task.  He will be victorious.  Mary is not left alone at that empty tomb…she is greeted by angels, and then by Christ himself, in risen form.  Do you see how in these moments of utter isolation, God does not allow Christ or his children to stay that way?

We aren’t mean to be alone, to stay alone, to feel alone.  It’s not what God wants for us.  This sense of loss, of emptiness is so potent during times like this.  And I think this time it’s different because it’s in such a unique format.  We can’t physically be with those who we want to be with because of a virus we can’t see… maybe before all of this, we took for granted how we interacted.  Even if we do see someone, it’s 6 feet away.  If your friendships and family are all long distance right now, you can’t comfort or console them how you normally would.  We are living in uncertainty.  There is no fixed point as to when this will all be done and we can hug that friend, take that road trip, go out for dinner, walk a museum, sit through live theater or music.  And that’s crushing.

The sanctuary is physically empty, the pews hold no parishioners, the platform only contains my pastor, the choir chairs are void of voices praising God’s name.  God doesn’t want his churches to remain empty, for His children to live in fear and sorrow, and for us to face this battle alone.  So with that knowledge, I will step forward.  And I will sing this service, offering back to Him what He’s given to me.  And that’s all I can do.


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