And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi lama sabach-tha-ni?" which means, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" — Mark 15: 33-34
Those of us who have lived long enough have experienced moments when hope seemed like a distant dream. Maybe it was a discouraging diagnosis or perhaps it was a devastating loss. It could have been grief which seemed, and maybe was, unbearable. Some have faced business or economic situations which appeared to offer no way out. Whatever the circumstance, the human condition is no stranger to despair and hopelessness. The current struggle with COVID-19 presents just such a time.
People are ill. Thousands have died. Many more thousands are battling the disease with uncertain outcomes. It is not known who or how many will be next.
People are advised to take extreme measures in the hope of avoiding disaster. Social distancing, incessant hand washing, sheltering in place and even wearing face masks are suggested as possible protections. Sadly, not many of us are feeling particularly comforted by these ideas.
As if to add insult to injury, all of these events coincide with a Holy Season in which three of the great religions of the world observe some of their most sacred days.
As a Christian I write these words on the Monday of Holy Week. I cannot remember a time when I did not spend these days in church attendance, prayer and reflection. This year church attendance will be experienced by means of technology. I am thankful for that, and for those who make it possible, but I have to say that right now it seems to be a poor substitute for the real thing.
Mark 15 records the earliest known account of the death of Jesus. In verse 34, Jesus quotes Psalm 22: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Although it may have seemed like an affront to the Almighty, it was an honest question which emerged from the deepest longing of his heart. It still does. There is little doubt that the question, or a similar one, has been on the lips or in the hearts of many of us lately. There are no real answers from this pen. However, there may be insights.
A rabbi once said, "God did not send the storm, but he created the ones who came to help." Mr. Rogers said something similar when he said, "Look for the helpers."
There are many "God sent" helpers working hard and at great risk to bring relief and comfort. There is hope in that.
We have worried, wept and questioned during these days. We have also prayed, reached out to assist others and spent much time in deep meditation/reflection.
There is strength and hope in that.
This Sunday is Easter. It is not going to be the Easter we expected or have seen before.
But it will still be Easter. It will still be a day to remember that pain, sin, loss, even death, is not the final word. Yes, it is mystery, but it is mystery with hope at its center.
And old spiritual contains the line, "It's Friday, but Sunday's coming." That is what I want to try to remember this week. Sunday's coming!
C. Gerald Richardson is a retired minister in the United Methodist Church who lives in Monteagle, Tennessee.