The work of death—that’s what many of us think Good Friday is. It is the day Jesus died, the day that death seemed to have claimed victory, the day the tomb is sealed and all of our hopes seemed doomed. It is a day of doubt and darkness. Death enters in this day and that is no more apparent than in our own time in the midst of pandemic when patients and healthcare workers alike are at its mercy.
The threat of possible exposure and subsequent infection, the knowledge of family and friends who have succumbed to this invisible microbe and lay sick with a virus that we know so little about, the concerns that there are not enough face masks or ventilators or food all bear heavy upon us and we carry them as a burden akin to the cross. Only this day seems to stretch into weeks and may soon stretch into months—a sadistic Ground Hog Day in which Punxsutawney Phil continues to see his shadow and we are holed up for six more weeks of social distancing and dread.
The work of death is exactly what it seems to be—the end of hope, the end of all good things. Death only brings darkness. It is despised and rejected by all. It has no usefulness for us, no purpose. To die is to end; to slip through the veil in which one cannot return.
We spend a lot of time trying to avoid death. We develop medical procedures and drugs and treatments all designed to help us live longer. We identify the dangers of this world and work to establish controls around them in an attempt to make them safer. We hold on to the idea that Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth is more than myth, if not literally than through our pursuit of those things which might spur our youthful vigor.
In the end, we know that death comes to us all. Some of us will accept that with grace and even welcome death as a friend. Others of us will fight death until the bitter end blaming our personal failures and those of others on an inevitable outcome that we fear and hold no appreciation for. And yet, in the face of his own death, Jesus neither welcomes it nor does he fight it. In some ways he seems almost resigned to it, and yet, because we know the rest of the story, we know that death is not an end but a path to a new beginning.
Crucifixion is a terrible, ugly, and pain-filled way to die. It is meant to cause the greatest amount of agony a man can suffer. It is slow and suffocating. It is humiliating such that not only are you made vulnerable to death, you are completely exposed to life. The cross is meant to degrade you even as you stare out onto a world that continues upon its chosen trajectory into a future you will not be a part of.
As Jesus hangs on the cross, in the midst of his humiliation and shame, he offers his last will and testament. He ensures the care of his mother and declares his old life to be ended. His legs will not be broken as his resignation and refusal to fight allow death to come quickly. Crucifixion may be the work of death, but it is not the work of Jesus.
On this Good Friday, we are called to remember that pandemics and crucifixions are the work of death. But the work of death is not Jesus’ work; it is not Christians work. We look out onto a world we can no longer be a part of—a world in which pandemic has driven us into the sanctuary of our homes. A world in which we must distance ourselves from one another because an invisible enemy threatens us with death. But even in this place of doubt and darkness, we are called to handle death with care. We can no longer take life for granted, but neither can we take death for granted. In the midst of death, we are in life. Death is not the enemy. Pain and suffering and sorrow are not the enemy. The true enemy is our despair. Amen.
Good Friday Year A: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42
Church of the Ascension – Montgomery, AL
Friday, April 10, 2020
Rev. Candice B. Frazer