Onlookers

When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30

It’s Good Friday—the darkest day of the Christian story. Jesus, the Innocent, was cruelly nailed to the cross and died. Here his story seemed to end where we fear our stories will end too—at our deaths. But on this darkest day, God was at work showing that in this story God wasn’t defeated yet! Easter is yet to come.

But we are not quite there yet…

But all (Jesus’) acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things. Luke 23:49

If there’s anyone in the story with whom we are likely to identify this COVID-19 Good Friday, it is likely to be the onlookers—the disciples, women, and some of Jesus’ other followers—who stood by in stunned silence unable to believe what was happening to them.

They had followed him through all the towns and villages hearing him announce the Kingdom of God in their midst, watching him as he healed and cast out demons and gathered an increasing throng of followers and believers. They had such hope that he truly was God’s promised Messiah.

Some of them had only hours before gathered around the festive Table of the Passover, celebrating with joy and solemnity the most sacred day of the Jewish year. And then it all fell apart…

Onlookers they were who felt so powerless and defeated, not even able to raise a fist in anger or cry out in protest to save their beloved Jesus.

Onlookers? Onlookers are we! That “deer-in-the-headlight moment” we know too well, don’t we?

It was just a few short weeks ago when we were so confident that we would be able to handle this novel coronavirus. We had the best health system in the world. Surely it could handle this new challenge. We were at work, school, worshipping in our churches, eating in pubs and restaurants, socializing with family and friends and looking forward to the coming a joyful Easter celebration and all that goes with the coming of spring. And then in a very few days it all fell apart…

We became onlookers in a battle we never imagined. Schools closed. Many workers sent home. Unessential services closed. Pubs and restaurants closed. Jobs lost. People becoming ill from the virus, some hospitalized, and some dying. Staying at home with those with whom we live, social distancing when we go out, wearing masks to protect others, worshiping “virtually” online…all of us living with the uncertainty of how long this will last…

Onlookers… We feel so helpless, we yearn for the relationships and community we took for granted, we want so much to be doing what we thought we were here to do and live fully the life we have.

Oh God, help us. What are we supposed to be learning from this time?

Strange as it may seem, God loves onlookers too! The “Good” in “Good Friday” is that in Jesus’ death and resurrection suffering itself is made whole by God who keeps loving us through every moment and experience of our lives—even COVID-19.

The place to see the “Good” in Good Friday may be in health workers, first responders, government leaders who help each other out, transportation workers and grocery workers who help get food to our tables, the servants who go to work even when their own health and lives may be in danger. (Thank you—we love you!)

Kate Bowler, professor and historian of American religion at Duke University, who has lived through incurable cancer, in a recent interview gave wise counsel that may help us see the “Good” in Good Friday.

“The trick is to find meaning without being taught a lesson. A pandemic is not a judgment, and it will not discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving. I think moments like this reveal to me God’s unbelievable love for us. The second I see all these nurses and doctors going out there trying to save somebody else’s life, I realized it’s such a window into how gorgeous it is to be a human being. And the more we see fragility, sometimes the more we understand what an incredible miracle it is to have been created at all. So I think just having a higher and higher view of our gorgeous and terrible humanity. We’re learning right now in isolation what interdependence feels like and what a gift it is. And the more we’re apart, the more we realize how much we need each other. We’re allowed to be like beautifully, stupidly needy right now.”

Today, this COVID-19 Good Friday, look inside yourself and around you and discover at least one thing that makes this Good Friday feel good for you!

Prayer...

Gracious God, we need you. We need you every hour. Help us to find the good in our helplessness and know that your love will prevail. Thank you for all who risk their health and lives to help others. Amen.

Keith Hammer

Keith Hammer

Retired ELCA Pastor

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Jim Grunow

    Thanks, Keith, for your devotional thought. Connecting us today as we confront this Virus with the onlookers at Jesus’ crucifixion was helpful to me–stunned, not quite knowing what to do, out of control, on a new frontier, wondering what’s next. It’s all there today as it was for those onlookers back in the 1st Century.

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