Text: Mark 14-15 (excerpts) * Video of first part of service
Friends, this is the third Good Friday of the COVID-19 pandemic and the first one of the three where we are holding an in-person gathering here at Mill Woods United. In April 2020, the pandemic had just begun, and I used Facebook Live from my home, along with the able assistance of my wife Kim who provided a singing-bowl introduction to a short worship experience. Last year, although we had restarted in-person services, we used the Zoom online platform for Good Friday worship, which is the first, and so far only time we have used Zoom for worship.
This year, despite a sixth wave of COVID-19 cases, some of us have gathered here in person while others watch live on Facebook or catch a video of this service later. As always, I am extremely grateful to Brian Sampson for providing the livestream, and to Bryan LeGrow for being here as our Music Leader.
The dogged persistence of COVID-19 might be one of the reasons some of us wonder if this is anything other than a Good Friday world. Almost 40,000 Canadians, one million Americans, and more than ten million other people worldwide have died, and the amount of grief – both expressed and unexpressed — is enormous.
There are also other painful events that might make us think this is a Good Friday world. Perhaps we are dealing with personal health concerns or with a sick loved one. Perhaps we are experiencing trouble at work or conflict at home.
Then there is the horrible war in Ukraine. Resistance to the Russian invasion has impressed so many of us, but death, destruction, and destitution abound. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been front and centre in many of our hearts and minds for these past seven weeks, partly because Russia has made horrifying assertions about nuclear weapons. But the Ukrainian crisis is hardly the only one hurting the world. Wars, brutal oppression, and the existence of nearly 100 million refugees around the world might constantly remind us of how fallen human society seems.
On top of these ills, there are fears about climate disaster, about the rise of authoritarianism, and the about spread of dis-information to so many – including in our churches, families, and neighbourhoods.
When I spend time on Good Friday remembering the painful and tragic details told in the gospels about the arrest, trials, torture, and execution of Jesus, other issues like the ones I mentioned can flood my heart. And on this gloomy and wintry spring morning, this has happened again.
Still, awareness of these problems makes me more determined to mark Good Friday. For me, this is the most important date in the church calendar. Good Friday is closely connected to Easter, of course, which we will celebrate here in two days. But Easter is easy. With Grace, new life can always flood into our hearts. But the hard truth revealed in the stories of Good Friday, is that this new life requires death.
Good Friday is a day when we remember that while rising to new life is easy, dying is often difficult. This is true for the biological death of individuals. We all want to slip away peacefully, and at an old age, and sometimes this happens. But more often, the dying process is painful, and there is usually at least a short period of suffering before death. Sometimes, there is a long period.
Good Friday truths also apply to the symbolic deaths we experience before the end of our lives. These include the death of illusions in our institutions, or in our distractions, or in addictions. It can include the deaths of failed relationships, or toxic work arrangements, or soul- and environmental-destroying social institutions.
When I reflect on the death of Jesus, I remember these other deaths. Almost all of them are painful. But when we receive and accept the Grace to experience the pain of these endings, with Grace, new life sometimes rises in our hearts.
Every Good Friday, we come to the foot of the cross to stare at things we might rather ignore, and then we wait in hope for Easter morning.
Many people prefer to skip Good Friday and rush forward to Easter, which I understand. But sometimes Good Friday thrusts itself upon us as when a loved one dies, or a beloved institution fails. In such times of pain, may we remember that Friday never has the last word, and that out of Friday’s losses a strange and new life of love can arise on any Sunday.
Today we have heard the stories of Good Friday. They may have brought grief or fear to our hearts and minds. They may have reminded us of some of the pain and difficulties of our own lives.
And now we wait. We wait in prayerful silence. We wait in expectant hope. We wait and pray knowing that doing so prepares us to enter a space even larger than our grief – an empty tomb on Easter morning.
It might seem that we live in a Good Friday world. But it is a world in which every day people find paths that lead from disillusionment to a new connection to Love. This might be a world filled with too much violence, but it is also world with an even greater abundance of Grace and Love.
And for these Good Friday and Easter truths, I give thanks.
May it be so. Amen.