April 10 2020 – 7:00 PM
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Rev. David Justin Lynch
Isaiah 52:13-53:12 Psalm 31:2;6;12-13;15-16;17;25
Hebrews 4:14-16;5:7-9 John 18:1-19:42
+ In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
This Good Friday is very different from any the world has ever known. Good Friday, as is commonly known, commemorates the death of Jesus, but in today’s contemporary encounter between a virus and humanity, we are no longer only thinking of suffering and death of a savior and prophet who walked the earth two thousand years ago. Instead, suffering, death, and sadness is all around us. People are happy go lucky no more. Beach parties, rock music festivals, and stadiums full of sports hands are no more, at least for now.
People are looking to the Church for answers, but are not finding any. And when the Church is most needed in human life to comfort those who suffer and are on their way out of this world, government-mandated social distancing prevents the Church from doing its job. We are now living in a world where priests no longer anoint dying people, and where family cannot say goodbye in person to their dying mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers, lest they get infected themselves. The passion according to John shows us how lucky Jesus was to have his mother with him at the foot of the cross for the last moments of his earthly life.
The immediacy of the pandemic has overwhelmed our hearts, minds and souls such that the death of Jesus this year seems so distant and abstract. Good Friday is, be design, meant to be a depressing day in the calendar of the Church, but this year, it is even more so. For Jesus, there was a resurrection on Easter morning, but for the over one hundred thousand people who have died from COVID Nineteen, there will be no resurrection this Sunday. They will all remain dead, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
So where does this leave Christians? Perhaps we can best identify with the Babylonian exile of the Jewish people when the soldiers of King Nebuchadnezzar Temple was destroyed, Jerusalem was ransacked, and they were deported to Babylon and remained there in exile for about forty years.
This despicable virus is the Nebuchadnezzar of our day. Like Nebuchadnezzar, the virus has driven much of the world is in exile now from their jobs, their families and friends, and their places of worship, to name just a few of the locations we no longer go, at least for a time. We are sad we are no longer living the way that made us happy. We are in a state of lamentation.
The Bible is full of lamentation literature. We find it in the psalms which focus on sorrow for the travails of the Jewish nation and pray for divine intervention. In Psalm 40, we hear, “Be pleased, O LORD, to deliver me! O LORD, make haste to help me!” Psalm 18 cries out, “In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help.” And Psalm 28, which says, “Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help.” There are many other such verses throughout the Book of Psalms. Just google, “Psalms of Lament.” These psalms reflect not only individual feelings of sadness, but communal sadness as well as the concerns of the Jewish people after natural disasters, invasions by surrounding nations, and of course, plagues.
The virus has put the entire world on pause. It has forced us to reconsider how are society has been organized. Our economy has suddenly shifted from fulfilling wants to attempting to provide for basic human needs. We have gone down a few notches on the Maslow hierarchy of human needs away from self-actualization and more towards survival. As we realize that “we are all in this gether,” individual rights and freedoms have become subordinate to common survival. Talk about I, me and my has been rephrased into we, us, and our.
Pandemics have occurred throughout human history. Cholera, bubonic plague, the black death, smallpox, and influenza are some of the most brutal killers in human history. Outbreaks of these diseases across international borders, are properly defined as pandemic, especially smallpox, which throughout history, has killed between three hundred to five million people in its twelve thousand year existence.
In our own lifetime, we have seen HIV/AIDS, SARS, MERS, Ebola, and several varieties of flu. The corona virus, however, has appeared in the world with a suddenness, large scale, and deadliness that that we have never seen or expected in our lifetimes.
This bad thing has happened to the world, and humanity fears more bad things to come with no end in sight as we collectively lament our exile and pray for the end of this deadly pestilence. Just like the Jewish nation in exile, we have become scared at the huge loss of human control over immediate events.
Like Mary at the foot of the cross who wept at the crucifixion and death of her Son, all of humanity is sad. We are experiencing how lamentation is part of the universal human experience. Not only does the Bible have psalms of lament, but there is an entire book in the Old Testament called Lamentations of Jeremiah, often called “the weeping prophet.” As I look at photographs of an empty Times Square in New York City, I cannot help but feel its opening words:
How lonely sits the city
that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become,
she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces.
She weeps bitterly in the night,
with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers
she has no one to comfort her;
The roads to Zion mourn,
for no one comes to the festivals;
all her gates are desolate,
her priests groan;
her young girls grieve,
and her lot is bitter.
What will happen to the Church after all of this is over? The Jewish people wondered that, too. The pre-exilic portion of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah not only prophesizes the exile, it also prophesizes hope for the future, praise for deliverance from oppression, judgment on human arrogance, and the righteous reign of a coming king.
While much of the Book of Jeremiah is a lengthy tirade against the people for their faithlessness and ominous warnings of the destruction to come if they do not mend their ways, yet Jeremiah also offered a vision of hope. Laced throughout Jeremiah’s prophetic warnings are promises that returning to God shall lead to divine blessings and that God will ultimately honor his covenant with the Jewish people. In one of Jeremiah’s most famous passages in the Book of Jeremiah, the prophet buys a field as the armies of Babylon were laying siege to Jerusalem, a gesture that has come to represent hope in God’s faithfulness to his peope. Jeremiah prophesized a new covenant with God’s people, written on the hearts of God’s people, not on stone tablets.
And Ezekiel, who had prophesized destruction and exile, showed the Jewish people they had a future, and that they could look forward to renewed blessing. Ezekiel foretold that God’s dwelling place would once again be among the Jewish people, giving them God’s word that “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” These three major prophets gave us words of comfort, that better days are ahead. We all hope that is true now.
The scientists, who are today’s prophets, have told us that things will get worse before they get better. Many more people are going to get sick. Many more people are going to die. So where do we as Christians turn for comfort? At the foot of the cross, the disciple whom Jesus loved, often said to be John, said to Mary the Mother of Jesus, “Woman, here is your Son,” to which Jesus replied, “Here is your mother.” Jesus has given all of us Mary as our collective mother, to comfort us when times are tough and we feel down. Mary is truly “Our Lady of Sorrows.” Mary has become in a special way the comfortress of the afflicted. Her own experience of sorrow taught her the empathy which enables her to comfort us as her children in all their afflictions.
For all of us as God’s children, the way to heaven leads across the mount of Calvary, the way of trial and suffering. In the company of our Sorrowful Mother we walk more easily, fight more courageously, and suffer more patiently, perseveringly and joyfully. The view of Mary as the Comforter of the Afflicted is one of the oldest in the Church. You are perhaps familiar with the prayer, Salve Regina. It expresses the belief of all ages in the power of Mary to comfort:
“To Thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to Thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.” Forsaken by all, we still have her with us always.
You may recall the hymn Stabat Mater, which in Latin for,
“Mother stood”, which is often sung during a Stations of the Cross service. I’ll sing some of it for you:
“At the cross her station keeping
Stood the mournful mother weeping
Where he hung the dying Lord.”
O how sad and sore distressed
was that Mother, highly blessed
of the sole-begotten One.
Can the human heart refrain
from partaking in her pain,
in that Mother’s pain untold?
The present circumstances call for us to deepen our relationship with Mary. Contrary to popular misconceptions, Catholics do not, I repeat, do not, pray to Mary. We pray to God alone. Our relationship with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is entirely different from our relationship to Mary. God is our God. Mary is Mary. Mary, as Jesus told us, is our mother, ready to love and comfort us in our distress. We can certainly ask Mary to do that.
Mary, the Mother of Jesus, knows the strife and pain of this life on earth. Not only did she experience it, but she stays involved from her home in heaven. I picture Mary holding all of those suffering from coronavirus and their families in her role as Comforter of the Afflicted. Mary offers them her arms with a comfort that’s far beyond just a prayer. Mary is both mother and intercessor, holding those in distress as she looks over their heads to her Son.
Not only is Mary active in our prayer life, but she sets an example for all of us to follow in our ministry. Part of our job as ministers, and that includes all of us, ordained or not, is to be a comforting presence to those who suffer. Although in today’s world hospitals will not let us approach the bedside of a person dying of COVID 19, we can pray that Mary will comfort them in her role as the mother of us all. Under the protection of our most Blessed Mother, we seek refuge and comfort for all who suffer.
And I invite you to entreat Mary’s help:
O Immaculate Heart of Mary, we entrust ourselves to you, Health of the Sick.
At the foot of the Cross, you participated in Jesus’ pain, with steadfast faith.
Patroness of the Church, you know what we need.
We are certain of the power of your intercession, so that, as you did at Cana of Galilee, joy and feasting might return after this moment of trial.
Help us, Mother of Divine Love, to conform ourselves to the Father’s will and to do what Jesus tells us:
“Love one another, as I have loved you”
Jesus took our sufferings upon Himself and bore our sorrows
to bring us, through the Cross, to the joy of the Resurrection.
Mother Mary, bring under your mantel of protection all who provide care for the sick and minister to their needs, as your Son implores us to do for one another.
Mother Mary, stay with us and pray with us.
May we use this time of respite from the world to deepen our relationship with God, to discern and celebrate what really matters. Love your spouse or partner. Love your children, whether they be canine, feline or human. Love your friends. Compose music. Vocalize. Practice whatever instrument you play. Read books. Write essays. Draw and paint pictures. Sculpt a statue. Above all, use this time to live for the Glory of God.
The Church, including Saint Cecilia’s, will survive. One day, we will be freed from this our exile in a valley of tears, and will rejoice and rebuild the church, as the Jewish people rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem and celebrated its rebirth. We will be reborn, too. AMEN.