Coronavirus and the Seven Last Words of Christ From the Cross
“In your house I shall celebrate the Passover.” (Matthew 26:18)
Fourth Word | Fifth Word | Sixth Word | Seventh Word
These meditations are dedicated to Cardinal George Pell, a courageous shepherd of the flock and a faithful son of the Church. He has suffered for his fidelity.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.
There is a venerable Good Friday custom, that of the Seven Last Words, made most famous in recent times by the Venerable Fulton Sheen, who preached the Seven Last Words every Good Friday for 58 years. The custom of meditating upon the seven times Jesus speaks from the Cross is older than that, and the preacher often takes up a particular theme, to be looked at in the light of the seven times Jesus speaks from the Cross.
This Good Friday is like none other in anyone’s memory. For we will not gather to mark the solemn hours of the Lord’s Passion. We will not gather anywhere for any reason. The coronavirus pandemic has kept us all at home, our cities empty, our churches closed.
There can only be one theme for this year’s Seven Last Words. Jesus speaks to us today as we are. Jesus speaks to us in this time of global pandemic. For this is His time.
At the beginning of the Easter Vigil, when the new paschal candle is lit, the priest takes the candle and says:
Christ yesterday and today
the Beginning and the End
and the Omega
All time belongs to him
and all the ages
To him be glory and power
through every age and for ever. Amen.
This time belongs to Him. On the Cross Jesus speaks to all the ages, including this one of global pandemic. So this Good Friday we address ourselves to the Seven Last Words in that context. What do the words from the Cross mean for us today, now, in this time of anxiety, of fear, of loneliness and loss, of pain and perplexity, of sickness and death?
I have chosen as the theme words from Matthew 26, which we hear proclaimed on Palm Sunday and was also the Gospel for Wednesday of Holy Week:
The disciples approached Jesus and said,
“Where do you want us to prepare
for you to eat the Passover?”
“Go into the city to a certain man and tell him,
‘The teacher says, “My appointed time draws near;
in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.”’”
The disciples then did as Jesus had ordered,
and prepared the Passover.
In your house I shall celebrate the Passover. In your house…
Most years, we would have passed over those words about preparing the Passover. But not this year. For we are largely confined to our homes. We cannot visit the house of the Lord this Holy Week. We cannot celebrate the “Passover” of the new covenant together. And so our prayer is that we might hear those words of Jesus addressed now to each of us – in your house I shall celebrate the Passover. If we cannot go to the house of the Lord, may the Lord come to our house.
So on this Good Friday, this Passover of the Lord Jesus, we beseech Him to come to our home.
Normally, at the beginning of the Seven Last Words I mention that the first Good Friday was a busy day, people going about their shopping and their traveling and their preparations because a great holy day was at hand. Our Good Fridays are usually like that too; we are surrounded by the busy-ness of people getting ready for the Easter holiday, even if — or perhaps especially if — it is of little spiritual importance to them.
Not this year. The streets of Jerusalem are empty. There is no throng of pilgrims on the Via Dolorosa. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is closed. The streets of Rome are empty. The great churches are closed. Bernini’s enormous colonnade, built to embrace the whole world and people of every race and nation, now embraces a vast emptiness.
In some places, during the veneration of the Cross on Good Friday there is the tradition of singing passages from the Book of Lamentations, by tradition attributed to the prophet Jeremiah. In other place the Lamentations are included in other Holy Week devotions, like Tenebrae.
The image given to us by the Lamentations fits our circumstance. The great city, the royal city, the holy city, the capital of the nation, is empty. We are this Good Friday in a time of lament. And so we turn to that biblical lament:
How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!
She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks: among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her: all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies.
Judah is gone into captivity because of affliction, and because of great servitude: she dwelleth among the heathen, she findeth no rest: all her persecutors overtook her between the straits.
The ways of Zion do mourn, because none come to the solemn feasts: all her gates are desolate: her priests sigh, her virgins are afflicted, and she is in bitterness.
(Lamentations 1:1-4, KJV)
No one can come to the solemn feasts. The gates of the city are desolate. The priests sigh as they are alone in their churches.
We are at home this Good Friday, and as we meditate upon the Seven Last Words, we beg to hear:
In your house I shall celebrate the Passover.
We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee, because by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.