Five Words for Good Friday – COVID-19

Crowns are usually connected with ceremonies, especially coronations. The Latin word – corona – constantly communicated and commented on in the context of the pandemic – literally means crown. For Christ, after the travesty of his trial when Pilate asked him whether he was ‘the King of the Jews’, crown is not connected to celebration but condemnation. After being flogged, Saint John tells us today that ‘the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head’. This is Jesus the Man of Sorrows, the image that Saint Pope Paul VI said indicates how in everyone we can and must recognise the countenance of Christ, the Son of Man, especially when tears and sorrows make it plain to see.  Bearing the crown of thorns, Jesus our Brother, we beg that you bring us through this time of sickness and separation.

He offered up. This phrase from today’s second reading sums up the life of Jesus, his service of others and sacrifice in love to the last, leading to the laying down of his life. This supreme sacrifice is seen in his obedience to the will of the heavenly Father. Through his self-offering Jesus opens up a window which shows us that the Father is not an angry figure to be appeased. God’s way is not one of wrath but weakness. Offering yourself up ‘even unto death, death on a cross’, Jesus our Saviour, strengthen all who sacrifice themselves in serving their brothers and sisters in healthcare and throughout society at home and abroad, sustaining them and all through this time of pandemic and peril.

Veronica is the name traditionally associated with the woman who wiped the face of Jesus. Placed at the sixth Station, after the agony of Jesus’ meeting with his mother and the assistance of Simon of Cyrene, her act of mercy in soaking up some of the sweat, blood and dust that marred the face of the Messiah attests to the truth of his teaching, ‘Amen I say to you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it to me’ (Matt 25:40). Where the previous evening Jesus washed the feet of his friends, now a stranger wipes his face in a touch of tenderness that will be remembered to the end of time. Jesus, Son of Man, do not turn your face away from us in our time of need.

Isaiah’s portrait of the Suffering Servant is proclaimed every Good Friday in the service of the Passion of the Lord. Whether representative of the collective or an individual, the figure described in the reading resonates universally. Everyone, at some stage in his or her experience, can find an echo here.  ‘And yet ours were the sufferings he bore, ours the sorrows he carried’. For Christians the Servant is not simply a figure of suffering and sorrowful humanity but the Son of God and son of Mary struggling under the weight of the cross to Calvary. In the figure of Christ ‘crucified under Pontius Pilate’ faith finds freedom from selfishness and sinfulness. Jesus, our Healer, help all who are sick, suffering and sorrowful at this time.

Deliver us from evil. The deadly evil experienced in the existential threat of the pandemic eclipses all other concerns at this time. The final intercession of the Our Father finds a focus in the pandemic that is felt in fear and formulated in the need for restriction and restraint. On the day when Christians commemorate Jesus’ engagement with evil that ended in his death, let us take comfort from the words of Pope Francis (Apostolic Exhortation Rejoice and be Glad #174 – #177 [The logic and gift of the cross]): “God asks everything of us, yet he also gives everything to us. He does not want to enter our lives to cripple or diminish them, but to bring them to fulfillment.” Christ, our Redeemer, by your holy cross release us from the snare of evil and all its effects.   

Fr Kevin O’Gorman SMA