John 19:16-18 Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.
Good Friday presents a huge challenge each year for many of us as the title can be quite a dichotomy. How can it be good with all the cruelty of humanity at its very worst is described in gory detail? How can it be good when we are witnesses to the haste of many apologists and bystanders to claim and postulate their innocence in the face of silent culpability and acquiescence? This year it is even greater for us as we struggle with the effects of a raging epidemic. We are now challenged to find new ways to express good in the face of evil, fear and death.
How can we speak of goodness when the news of the racial disparities of the effects of the corona virus is surfacing? Our urban communities are facing even greater risks than others and the experts provide reasons such as preexisting conditions, service jobs, and misinformation. They are now ‘discovering’ what we as urban prophets have been preaching relentlessly to the angst of the many who don’t want to listen. In our City of Elizabeth, we have one of the highest number of cases and fatalities in the State of New Jersey. In Union and Essex counties, which are our catchment areas as a church, the numbers of the infected and deaths combined, paint a horrible picture.
The Covid-19 virus has ripped away the veneer of racial progress espoused by many in this State and in the Episcopal Church. No longer can one genuinely believe enough resources have been provided from either handouts or from the results of fiercely fought battles. No longer can our leaders sit in the comforts of their wealth and self-satisfaction and espouse equality as some liberal agenda but now need to understand that equity is a life-saving act. This is no time for handouts, but investment in the salvation of the whole community.
On the first Good Friday, lying in the shadows of Jesus are two dying men whose death can easily be overlooked until Jesus draws them into the light of His saving act. Today, we can easily replace them with an African American man and a Hispanic woman who are dying due to neglect and racism. They can easily be replaced by the black woman who understands daily the trials of systemic medical racism. They can easily be replaced by the Hispanic husband and father languishing in an immigration prison.
It is Good Friday for it lays bare all the superficial notions of benevolence and greed over which the powerful lacks self-control. The Covid-19 virus reveals, in spite all the claims of the U.S health care system; a system for only those who can afford it, a nation is as healthy as the most unhealthy citizen. A church is as wealthy as its poorest congregation. As Jesus shared “as much as you did it for the least of these you did it for me. ” or even worse “whatever you did not do for the least of these you did not do for me”( Mathew 25:40-45) The covid-19 virus is revealing who inhabits the realm of “the least” has not changed in spite all Papier-mâché efforts.
Good Friday allows us to look to Jesus and the two in his shadow dying in the midst of human fear. Fear united a community then as it has done today. There was fear all around. Even the leaders sought ways out of the situation, but there was no getting around it. Human reckless and fragile power that abused the hungry, poor needed to be faced, and needs to be faced today. A society built upon might, and frail divisions of race, creed or class must die. Human relationships built upon the shifting sands of expediency must die. Jesus will be the rock upon which a new world order will be built. In this new world, the poor will be cared for in humane and loving ways.
Isn’t amazing how, in the face of the Covid 19 virus, governments all over the world can now find money to care for the poor and unemployed? Even the church, which Jesus invited to share in His ministry, is now discovering that it can support churches in crisis now that the crisis no longer comes with a color? Isn’t it amazing that we can now enjoy our local parks in ways we used to save for Disney? Isn’t amazing we now discover doctors, nurses and health care workers, from the simplest cleaner to the top surgeon, are now more valuable that sports stars? Is not amazing that we now discover our teachers are more valuable than The Housewives of New Jersey?
It is Good Friday because through His death, Jesus is about to bring forth something new. Yet, even as we await that which is being born, our joy is that He refused to leave behind those who shared in his experience of death on a cross. For those living in the shadow cast by the sin of racism and racial injustice, Jesus has not forgotten you even as the world has neglected you. Jesus, in his dying gasp, uttered the Good News, “Today you will be with me.” Good Friday is built on the Christmas incarnation shout “Emmanuel” God is with us!