“Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by.  We feel it in the air, we notice it in people’s gestures, their glances give them away.  We find ourselves afraid and lost.” (Pope Francis – Urbi et Orbi, 27 March 2020)
That could easily be an extract from today’s passion – but they are the words of Pope Francis as he recently led the world in prayer from Rome in response to the coronavirus pandemic.  When we reflect these days on the Passion narrative of Good Friday we come to the realisation in these strange times that this is our story here and now: isolation, restricted movements, loneliness, social distancing, suffering, grief and pain.  Even Isaiah speaks of ‘a man to make people screen their faces.’ (Is. 53:3) 
There was nothing normal about the events of Good Friday – there is nothing normal about these days as we grapple with the enormity of the pandemic and its impact on our lives!  Our desire to comfort, console, minister to and support, are all restricted and distant and we struggle with it – it goes against every human instinct, we are social beings, we need to connect, we need to care. 
I couldn’t help but reflect on how much of our lives are veiled these last weeks – the wearing of masks, the putting on of gowns, and the protection of gloves.  It is interesting to note in the first station of the cross, Pilate washes his hands, a gesture that doesn’t escape our notice these days – ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood’, (Mt. 27:24) he declares to the crowd.  While we responsibly wash our hands to protect ourselves and others, Pilate washed his hands to protect himself. 
While we wash our hands confident that what we do saves lives, Pilate washed his hands knowing he was condemning an innocent man to death – ‘by his sufferings shall my servant justify many, taking their faults on himself’, (Is. 53:11) Isaiah reminds us.
As we unveil the cross on this Good Friday, in a sense, we metaphorically take the gloves from Jesus’ hands, so he can heal us, console and save us.  We take the mask from Christ’s face so we can see the love in his eyes.  So deep is his love for us, Isaiah reminds us, he surrendered ‘himself to death and letting himself be taken for a sinner, while he was bearing the faults of many and praying all the time for sinners.’ (Is. 53:11-12)  We take the gown from his body to reveal his battered, bruised and wounded body, to reveal his heart beating with love for us.  On the cross, Christ is no longer veiled – he is Christ, crucified – the greatest offering of oneself for the salvation of the world.  ‘a man can have no greater love’, he said, ‘than to lay down his life for his friends’. (Jn. 13:15) 
That is why, even in these dark times we must not lose sight of hope in the Passion, because this story is also a story of healing, countless acts of mercy, love, sacrifice and hope.  When we look at the spontaneous outbursts of good neighbourliness, new community groups that have sprung up overnight and the way the internet is being used to coordinate support for those who need it, the sacrifices of our healthcare staff, those working to ensure our retail supply chains stay open, the many who put measures in place to ensure we are safe – these are the people of the Passion.  They are the Veronica’s reaching out to care for the exhausted, the weary, the lonely or isolated; the Simon’s of Cyrene – who do a good turn for their neighbour; the ‘Mary’s’ – mothers who are encouraging, educating, and caring for their children during these times; the Women of Jerusalem – who console those who have lost loved ones and cannot grieve properly; the Beloved Disciples – who stay faithfully in vigil for loved ones who are sick; the Mary’s of Magdala who carry the ointment in caring for those who are sick. 

Even the Josephs and Nicodemus’, they bring us from darkness into light, they keep the flame of hope alive and they keep our faith strong in prayer – pointing us always to Christ, our light and our salvation.  The cross reminds us that while we may be in isolation, we are not alone and in His Son, God will ‘let his face shed its light upon us and have mercy on us.’ (Reproaches)
The cross reminds the world of the sacrificial love of Christ which he expressed to humankind through his passion and death.  St. Paul says, “As for us, we proclaim the crucified Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:23)  We do so because Christ is our hope!  We cannot obtain salvation by ourselves – it is only in and through Christ that salvation comes. 
As we know from the Passion accounts, darkness fell over the land until the ‘ninth hour’.  But that darkness didn’t last forever – the sun rose again on Easter morning.  On this Good Friday we await the dawn to share in the joy of the empty tomb.  Just as the sun rose, the time will come when we will gather once more on our streets and in each other’s homes. 
Finally, last week when Pope Francis led the world in prayer, an online catholic news agency (Crux) described it as ‘an iconic image that stirred a country’s soul’.  As the restrictions impact on our lives, maybe it is an opportunity for all of us all to stop, to open our hearts to Christ and let him reassure us all that the joy of the resurrection will stir our souls and transform the darkest weeks into the brightest of days.

by Vy Rev Derek Darby, KCHS, Adm, EV