The coronavirus pandemic hits home for different people in different ways. For some, life continues, by and large, as normal. For others, everything has been turned upside down. Regardless of our individual responses, this global epidemic has already significantly altered our society and is making lasting changes to our world.

In the UK we are fortunate that, so far, we have been spared the scenes of hospitals overflowing with patients fighting for their lives as seen in Italy, Spain and New York. The talk of parks being dug up as temporary resting places for the deceased the system cannot cope with shocks us into realising that this isn’t a normal illness. It reminds us that being able to walk – socially distanced – in parks is a luxury. 

Maybe the first phase of this lockdown has been a respite from the hectic commuting; I certainly feel fortunate that I have been able to enjoy space and time that I haven’t had. For many others, these few weeks have been a tornado of chaos as children are at home, work continues through Zoom and endless conference calls, all the time encouraging children to behave and try to resist allowing them the fourth consecutive hour of The Octonauts.

For others, it’s the sight of the Queen addressing the country, reminding us that this is a time of crisis, which brings the reality home. Maybe work has furloughed you or you’ve had to shut up shop for your business. Or, perhaps, you or those close to you have been hit by the virus and you know the toil it takes on even a healthy person who is able to get through it. Maybe even you know someone who has lost their life to COVID-19. This will become much more common over the next few weeks as the number of fatalities is expected to rise. 

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This is a time of grief. The wall to wall coverage of hospitals straining under the burden of patients fighting for their breath. The messages from friends, family and neighbours informing us that someone has died can strike a hard blow. The notion of a country whose Prime Minister is incapacitated by the very crisis he was leading in can leave us feeling vulnerable and afraid. My Facebook feed cried out with people praying for Boris Johnson, and please join us in that prayer for his healing, wellbeing and recovery.

It’s okay to grieve

But it is okay to lament. It is okay to hurt. A month ago as this crisis was starting to build I wrote that the church should be the non-anxious presence that witnesses to the peace of Christ that lives in us. Sometimes that’s difficult. We know that Christ is the hope of glory and, as we approach Easter, we can be certain that He is the Risen King. We know that this coming Friday is good because our saviour died for our sins. But maybe this Saturday is the day that resonates most this year. 

In the darkness between Jesus’ death on the cross and His rising from the grave there was Saturday. It was a day of mourning. The disciples who had put down their fishing nets to follow Him were left bereft. 

The night before Jesus’ death He prayed in the garden and asked His Father to take this cup from Him. But only if that was His will. Jesus didn’t want to go through with this; He wondered if there was another way, a way out, an easier option, a way that could avoid the darkness. He had been betrayed. The authorities had decided that this man who claimed to be from God should be silenced.

And on Holy Saturday we remember that silence. The Bible tells us nothing about what happened on that day. Perhaps the religious leaders, keen to protect their purity on the Sabbath, hurried Him off the cross and into the pristine tomb donated for His body. Did they want this finished so they could enjoy their festival? 

Some of Jesus’ disciples would have cried, some would have fallen silent, others were in shock or angry or just walked away. The one who they believed was the Son of God was now gone. The distance between them seemed impenetrable. Jesus was torn from the Father He had known from the start, the distance that He felt being without his Father as He bore the weight of all our sin and shame. That distance can be how it feels when we cry out in prayer and we hear nothing back but the echo of our voice. 

When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, calling on God to take this cup from Him, He was not pretending to be more spiritual than He was. He wanted to avoid having to die. How often we want to avoid things. We pray to God for something and it can seem like He rejects our pleas. We cling on to what we want. We hold onto the life we know. 

But we can know that the King who died on Friday, was silent on Saturday, rose to glorious life on Sunday. The resurrection changes everything, but we can neither skip over the death of Friday nor the darkness of Saturday. Pain is real, grief is among us, and we cannot rush lament. (Read Holy Saturday: a time of waiting’ and follow the biblical narrative as we strive to remain faithful in this season.)

Our non-anxious presences isn’t a glib or flippant sense that there is nothing to see here – we’ll all be fine soon enough. It is a robust sense that even with the hardness and challenges of the presence, even amid the deaths and pain we are experiencing, we know that God is King and He casts out all fear. 

As a church we can confidently be assured of the goodness of God and the protection of His everlasting arms. And we can know why this is true despite what we are seeing around us. Our compassion should be in overdrive, as we follow God’s command not to fear. Our hope should be firmly in Jesus as we proclaim Him as the Risen King, as we declare to death that it has lost its sting. 

Even amid the deaths and pain we are experiencing, we know that God is King and He casts out all fear