Greetings. My name is Fr. Armando Elkhoury. I am a priest of the Maronite Eparchy of Los Angeles, and I am assigned to the Maronite Seminary in Washington, DC.
During Passion Week, Christians reflect on the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord and God. Today, April 10, 2020, on the Great Friday of the Crucifixion, as we are quarantined in our houses, uncertain, troubled, and afraid due to this horrible coronavirus pandemic, I offer you a short reflection on the death of Jesus according to Saint Matthew, who wrote:
45 From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 Some of the bystanders who heard it said, “This one is calling for Elijah.” 48 Immediately one of them ran to get a sponge; he soaked it in wine, and putting it on a reed, gave it to him to drink. 49 But the rest said, “Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to save him.” 50 But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit. 51 And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked, rocks were split, 52 tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54 The centurion and the men with him who were keeping watch over Jesus feared greatly when they saw the earthquake and all that was happening, and they said, “Truly, this was the Son of God!” 55 There were many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalen and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Mt. 27:45-56).
This passage describes the last few minutes before Jesus died on the cross. As a human being who is like us in all things but sin, Jesus consecrated his whole life to God. Before his passion, he continued to commit himself to God although his suffering and death were imminent. At Gethsemane, he fell prostrate in prayer and addressed God as his Father, saying: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as you will” (Mt. 26:39).
The first point I would like to make is that it is a normal reaction for a human being, when faced with death and suffering, to be afraid. When Jesus was faced with the heinous cross, he dreaded suffering and feared death.
Likewise, it is also normal for us to dread the suffering that the coronavirus causes and fear the possibility of death. We watch the news and see the devastation that this invisible and highly dangerous virus has caused throughout the world. We are suffering because of it. We are quarantined. Our financial situation is unstable. We might have contracted it. We or a loved one might be sick with it. We might be mourning the death of a loved one because of it. To be troubled in these times is a normal human reaction.
The second point is that the Father never abandoned his Son even if it seemed as if he did so. On the cross, the Son of the Father also greatly suffered, found himself at his lowest moment, and felt abandoned. He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me“ (Ps. 22:2; Mt. 27:46)? Although God the Father has always been with his Son, Jesus, he seemingly has left him unsupported, did not intervene in his struggle, nor saved his Faithful One from suffering and dying. Contrary to what one expects, the Father allowed for Jesus to suffer and die. Still, we know that the Father never abandoned his Son not even on the cross because Jesus told us, “I am never alone because the Father is with me … I have conquered the world” (Jn 16:32-33).
Similarly, we may feel abandoned by a loving and all-powerful Father during this time of pandemic and may ask: “How could God let this happen?” Over the centuries, many theologians have attempted to answer that question. I am not going to defend God, and I do not believe that he needs me or anyone else to do so. I simply would like to echo the cry of Jesus on the cross, “Our God, our God, why have your forsaken us” since it befits the awful circumstances the whole world is facing today. Moreover, it may seem that we are alone during this difficult time, but in reality we are not because the Son of God, who conquered the world, is always with us as he promised us, saying, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).
The third point I would like to make is that Jesus never despaired and trusted in his Father despite his gruesome fate. By saying MY God, Jesus shows that he did not despair and did not waver in his trust in his Father despite the excruciating pain he was suffering and his impending death. Indeed, from his first breath until his last, Jesus trusted his Father. The Father’s saving power was hidden from us and was only revealed to us after the death of Jesus. With his resurrection, Jesus, according to the Letter to the Hebrews, “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, declared by God high priest to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 5:8).
We, too, put our complete trust in our loving heavenly Father in spite of the coronavirus pandemic and the dreadful aftermath. Like a good and loving parent caring for their newborn, the Father cares for us. The infant feel safest in his parents’ lap, and we feel safest in the hands of the Father. The child does know how its parents take care of it and neither are we aware how God cares for us. Still, let us trust God the Father whose powers extend beyond the grave and who promised us salvation through his Son, Jesus Christ.
At the end of this pandemic, we shall joyfully proclaim with the psalmist,
24 “You who fear the LORD, give praise!
All descendants of Jacob, give honor;
show reverence, all descendants of Israel!
25 For he has not spurned
or disdained the misery of this poor wretch,
Did not turn away from me,
but heard me when I cried out (Ps 22:24-25).
Meanwhile, at our lowest moment, faced with a dangerous virus and an uncertain future, we place our trust in Jesus and turn to him, praying:
Jesus Christ, you opened the eyes of the blind man, to see your face, to see the compassionate face of God, whose vision is denied even to angels. We cry out with the blind man, saying, “My Lord and God, have mercy on me. Since you have made me worthy to hear your voice, make me worthy to see your face.” We petition you today to open our eyes to see your compassion and to trust in your divine providence despite the horrific pandemic the world is facing.
Your assurance to us “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom” is relevant and poignant during these uncertain days, for the coronavirus has paralyzed the entire world and brought fear and panic into our hearts. Let us hear your sweet voice, O Lord, that brought the Good News to the paralytic man, proclaiming, “All your debts are forgiven. Pick up your mat and go in peace.” We trust in you, our Divine Physician and Healer, we pray to you, we thank you for healing the world from this paralysis just as you healed the paralytic man, and we glorify you, your Father and your Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.