April 10th, 2020
Usually when we meet for Good Friday, I turn up the gloom. I fear that we are too comfortable, too accustomed to the rhythms of the year. I fear of lapsing from the Christian faith in the living God to moralistic therapeutic deism, which is a way of turning God into a means of self-improvement. I fear that we have so many ways of avoiding the real, of turning away from the pain of the world and shrinking back from its joys. Good Friday and Easter seem like times to offer our pain to God, the pain we can hardly bear, and to receive the joy of the Lord, the joy that seems greater than we can imagine. But we don’t that dial turned up too high tonight. Not when we’re in lockdown for weeks. Not when there are mass graves in Potters’ Field. Not when you read about nurses in New Jersey breaking down in tears because they’re losing people. Not when 16 million people have filed for unemployment. The question of Good Friday is—how far into the dark shall we go? Aren’t we there already?
What do you do in the dark? How do you get out? You look around, touch something, make sure you’re not unconscious or dreaming. You let your eyes adjust as best they can to whatever they can see. You use your memory—where are the tables, the chairs? What are the dangers on the floor? You take things step by step. You stub your toe, bark your shin. But maybe a door opens, or a window, or a light turns on in another part of the house, and it falls to where you are, and it lights a path for you, so you can come out of the dark. In the letter to the Hebrews, the church hears these words, lamps to darkness: “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
This letter speaks to those in the dark, like us. It doesn’t simply tell us to lift up up our heads. It reminds why we can do it. We have confession, a truth, that the Son of God was here before us, and indeed, is here with us now, in the dark, in our fear, in our dying. We have hope, because we know that he has gone before us in darkness and death, and he has come to lead us through. We can lift our heads because our overcoming of the time does not depend on us, but is assured by Jesus: he who has promised is faithful, and has demonstrated his faithfulness by enduring what we endure, one, as the Letter tells us elsewhere, who has in every respect been tested as we are.
That promise is the light that shines now on our path. You who are lonely, remember Christ’s loneliness, and know that he lives at your side. You who fear, remember Christ’s fear, screamed from the cross, and know that he lives at your side. You who despair, remember that Christ gave up his spirit, and know that he lives at your side. He who has promised is faithful. Even when Christ breathed his last, and gave up his spirit, the promise did not fail.
When we look upon Jesus at the cross, it is tempting for us to see defeat there. But the loneliness and isolation we see are also our loneliness and isolation, our suffering and our death. And if the cross is defeat, then surely we will also will be defeated. But as an old sermon proclaimed: “Hell took a body, and discovered God. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.”
So even in the middle of darkness and death, we are not alone. Even in defeat, we are not overcome. The one who has promised is faithful. So consider what good deeds you may do. Consider how you can encourage your neighbor. Consider that our deaths are not symbolic, but neither is the resurrection. It can be difficult to serve your neighbor when you can’t get within six feet from him. But you can call him on the phone, you can drop groceries at her door. And you can pray whenever you’d like, without cost.
The time is short, but how full is the time we have. We have days full of the presence of Christ, who has endured with us and suffered for us and risen for us. We have time full of others, who like us are scared and fearful. Hear in this darkness the voice of Christ. Remember that he guides us, that he has gone ahead and come back. And remember that the Day is approaching, always closer now than yesterday, when we will all celebrate together in light, and look back into our darkness with wonder to say, “He was there. My Lord was there. And he led us through.”