It is Good Friday during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Our whole world is different. It seems out of control.
In North America, we are accustomed to being in control of our lives. We value our independence and want to live, work, play, and worship as we please. Our leaders want to be in control of their territory, and when they don’t get their way, they try all sorts of power tactics to at least give the illusion of control. But now, a tiny little coronavirus has invaded our lives and we feel out of control. We feel helpless in a world that we think we are supposed to control.
We are also accustomed to thinking that a supreme God of the universe should ultimately be in control of everything. God should be able to simply snap the divine fingers and make this coronavirus go away. Praying hard enough should trigger God’s “virus delete” button. Yet, if the passion story of this week leading up to Good Friday teaches us anything, it shows us a God who rejects the power tactics of this world that would seek control.
Many days before this excruciating Friday crucifixion scene,
“Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?'” (Matthew 16:24-26 NRSV)
Thursday evening, Jesus had his own agonizing struggle for control in the Garden of Gethsamane over what was in store for him. Yet, he affirmed in spoken prayer, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” On that excruciating Friday, he carried out that affirmation of the Father’s rejection of a “fix-it” solution.
As Jesus suffers on the cross, having given up his need and his right to be in control, the powers of this world mercilessly mock him.
Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’” 44 The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way. (Matthew 27:39-44 NRSV)
Our notions of power and control are not the same as God’s. In Jesus crucified, the God of the universe becomes helpless against all of the evil forces that this sinful world can muster. It looks for all the world that evil has prevailed.
Yet, Christian faith affirms that it is precisely in the act of giving up control that the true power of God’s love is made known to the whole human race. Love, not force or control, is the nature of God’s true power, and that love requires self-sacrifice and even death. It took death to self, death to force, death to control, to get to Resurrection Sunday.
God keeps giving us new opportunities to also give up control. A tiny little coronavirus is one such opportunity. What would it be like if instead of crying out to God to “fix it” we asked God to give us the love of Christ? What would it mean if instead of trying to tell God what to do, we asked what God wants us to do? What if, instead of thinking only about controlling our own environment, we died to ourselves and our own selfish interests? What does it mean to think of the whole community, our friends and neighbors, and, yes, even those who are labeled as “enemies”? How do we keep ourselves safe not just to preserve our own lives, but in order to be instruments of God’s healing love for the world around us?
Dying to self and our need to control our lives may sometimes mean physically dying as it did for Jesus. But more often, it simply means to take up our cross daily, surrender control to the One we call “Father,” and follow Jesus in his self-giving love.