Until recently I haven’t found the coronavirus crisis traumatic. It’s mainly been fascinating, like living through the opening sequences of a sci fi film. It’s been about adjusting to the new world of empty streets, queues outside supermarkets, ‘closed’ benches in parks; and the new online camaraderie of lockdown, with my neighbours on WhatsApp, family on Skype, work and church on Zoom – and PE with Joe Wickes on YouTube (with 300,000 of his closest friends).
Recently though, reality has started to bite. Yesterday I opened Twitter to find a tweet at the top of my feed, not about bikes or streets or air pollution, but a stranger’s heartrending eulogy to his wife. She looked thirty-something. The thread had several replies from people who had lost loved ones as well.
Meanwhile a church friend has flown to Northern Ireland to make arrangements for her disabled mother after the sudden death of her father. A local friend, a primary school teacher, told me that the father of two of her pupils died last week. Another local friend had to listen in the night to the loud grief of the teenage girl next door whose mum had just died in ICU. It’s not just numbers and graphs and curves any more but real people, at only one or two removes.
Reading that tweet first thing yesterday set my mood for the whole day. Given that it was Good Friday (of an Easter I’ve so far ignored), it seemed right that it was awash with sadness. It made me determined to mark the day in some way, some way different to normal, since there are no prayer meetings or Good Friday services or even any churches open.
I asked the Redster (16) what we should do for Good Friday.
Both kids are now teenagers. Unlike some of the families in our church, who manage to pray and do Bible studies together every week or every day, I haven’t found a way to do regular spiritual stuff with the kids. When I’ve tried to organise something, it just feels a bit uncomfortable and risks being ‘religious’ in the worst sense.
The Redster suggested getting the tomb out.
Ah yes, the tomb. It’s bothered me since the children were small that there isn’t an Easter equivalent to an advent calendar. Why should Christmas get all the attention? So about seven years ago I found a solution that I have to say I’m very proud of. I drew on my long-neglected GCSE Art powers and made a model tomb out of clay. It had a dead Jesus to go inside and a round stone to close it, and for Sunday morning, an angel to sit on top and a live Jesus to stand outside with his arms held out triumphantly. It was magnificent.
On Good Friday evening we would gather round to mourn Jesus’ death and bury him in the tomb along with prayers or confessions on tightly folded pieces of paper which I promised not to read (and didn’t, in case you’re wondering). On Sunday morning, behold! The tomb was open, Jesus was risen, our sins had disappeared – and, in accordance with the Scriptures, replaced with chocolate mini eggs.
I think we did this for three years in a row until we got tired of glueing Jesus’ arms back on, the angel was looking a bit living dead and the base of the tomb was needed for an emergency school project.
So, as I reminded the Redster sadly, there is no tomb.
“We could make one,” she said.
“We don’t have any clay,” I said. “Maybe papier maché – but there isn’t time and I don’t have the energy.”
“We could use this,” she said, and produced an empty box from her stash of teenage junk food packaging.
So we did and it was perfect.
The four of us gathered in the kitchen. We took turns to read out John 19 about Jesus’ crucifixion and burial while the Cutester (13) made Jesus out of plasticine and the Redster attempted an angel. The plasticine was red and the Redster insisted on giving Jesus a pair of bulging orange eyes. The result was a bit Area 51, except Mr Suburbanite called it Area 52 by mistake, was mocked by his eldest daughter, and then tried to claim that while Area 51 was for the normal aliens the much more secret Area 52 was for the really weird ones. The Cutester also thoughtfully made a slice of pizza (pepperoni) to go into the tomb in case Jesus felt peckish after he woke up.
We wrapped the body in strips of linen, aka toilet paper (which Mr Suburbanite pointed out is probably roughly equivalent in value right now). Then we prayed. Then we wrote the names of people we know are suffering at the moment on pieces of paper and put them in the tomb with the body (and the pizza) and closed the lid.
It was the most irreverent, silly and profoundly moving Easter service I’ve ever attended. When we prayed I cried. It feels like the whole world is being crucified. Jesus’ suffering on Good Friday is always relevant, always about ‘God with us’ meeting our deepest need, but has somehow never felt so relevant as it does right now. Jesus’ lonely death, out of reach and abandoned on the cross, feels not unlike the loneliness of those dying alone in intensive care. We prayed they would know that they’re not alone after all. And we prayed for an end to this suffering.
May there be a resurrection soon…