Good Friday Reflection and a Prayer for NYC

Offered by Lesley-Ann Hix Tommey

Hi friends!

Greetings from New York City! My name is Lesley-Ann, and I serve here as field personnel for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

As you know, the spread of COVID-19 here has been very scary. Just in the past day, the number of total positive cases throughout all five boroughs surpassed 80,000. Those numbers include several in our community at Metro Baptist Church.

As every service organization closes its doors, we are praying for our neighbors who are having a hard time accessing needed supplies. For students navigating their virtual learning in families with limited access to internet and computers. For everyone who is losing their job. And of course for our healthcare workers. In our neighborhood, the Javits Center has become a 1,000-bed temporary hospital run by FEMA, and the USS Comfort is docked at the end of our street helping those with non-COVID health concerns. We have heard police driving around the neighborhood while saying over their loud speaker “Go home.” They have shut down our parks and most of our neighborhood store fronts are boarded up. It’s very surreal to hear the city so quiet and see the streets so empty. Darkness is hanging like a heavy cloud around us.

Kind of super appropriate that we’ve simultaneously been journeying through Lent. The struggle that is inherent in the Lenten journey feels like it has come to life around us. If Jesus wandered in the desert alone for 40 days, then this year we surely are walking a similar journey: alone and battling our anxiety, grief and helplessness.

I’ve been carrying all those emotions in bucket-fulls for the past few weeks. And maybe the hardest one has been feeling so helpless. I can’t be with my community, whether that’s those who have been sick or those I serve in our domestic violence group. I can’t go offer care at the hospital to those carrying all of us right now. I can’t single-handedly save the small coffee shop I adore in my neighborhood. My savior complex has been paralyzed. And, yes, that’s a good thing. We’re in darkness, and all that Jesus embodies, teaches us that the darkness is part of the redemption.

Right before Jesus is handed over to suffering and death, he tells the disciples they are all going to desert him. And the disciples refuse. They want to believe that’s not true. They want to believe their faith is strong enough to face the empire and even death. But their fear sets in and rules them instead. Right now, even though Jesus has been trying to tell them that the dying isn’t the end of the story, it just feels like death is winning.

If only they knew. If only we knew suffering had an ending. But when we’re in the muck, when we’re only experiencing pain and no hope, we can’t see. The trees are blooming outside, trying to teach us about life and death (and life), and all we can feel is weight. The heaviness of anxiety, grief and helplessness. Our survival instinct triggers our running because we just want to make the pain stop. And then Jesus is left all alone. There is something holy we could be witnessing, some lesson of pain and love, some thing about the mercies of God, and we want to escape it, because it hurts. We run before the sacredness ever has a chance to transform us.

But right now? We have no choice. We are being forced to sit in the darkness. So slowly, we become good at listening and learning. And then…we begin to see signs of hope. Like all the New Yorkers creating a ritual of hope these past two weeks. At 7 p.m. every night, we all open our windows and cheer loudly for our healthcare workers. It’s been an incredible demonstration of solidarity in the midst of isolation. And it’s been our hope while we move through our anxiety, grief and helplessness, no matter how ungracefully. We’re learning where our strengths are. We’re learning our true priorities. We’re learning about community and grace for ourselves. And it’s all the mercy of God.

Holy God,We begin with thanksgiving because even here you are still God and we are still yours.
But, honestly, our spirits are weak. Our immune systems are not ready for this fight. Our lives are disoriented. Our emotions are all over the place. Everything feels wrong, and we don’t know what to think or how to act or where to hope. We’re fighting a battle we don’t really know how to fight. Our hearts are heavy for this city.
Maybe we are settling into our new isolated reality with grace, or, more likely, we’re going kicking and screaming. Nothing is graceful about this. They shut down our parks and took down the basketball hoops. Signs on all boarded-up store fronts sorrowfully announce their closures. Police spread out across the city, covering every other block. We plan our laundry for a sunny day when we can sit on the sidewalk because we can’t wait in the laundromat anymore. We wait in lines that curve around the block to get into the grocery stores. The sound of ambulance sirens has become our background noise. We’ve turned our living rooms into crowded workspaces and our fire escapes into balconies.
Just like everyone else, we light candles and buy flowers to make us feel a little lighter, and we open our windows at 7:00 every night to cheer loud for our healthcare workers. We’re cheering each other on too. Maybe all the energy behind this ritual comes from a feeling of solidarity, or maybe we just need to hang out our windows and scream for a minute. Either way, thank you for the holiness of 7:00 p.m.
No matter how much we try to counter the darkness, the grief still sets in. We’re overwhelmed with helplessness and anxiety and sadness. Some days we can barely manage anything at all because of the weight of all these emotions.
Our hearts are heavy for our healthcare workers, who are carrying us all with impossible courage. “This is terrifying,” they tell us when they finally find a few moments of relief. Be their protection and their strength, God. Do not leave their side.
Our hearts are heavy for the most vulnerable among us: those getting sick and those without the resources to weather all the closed doors. For their safety, wellbeing and health we pray. God, be with them.
Our hearts are heavy for the hard workers unable to distance themselves, those doing jobs they never imagined they would do and those losing their jobs. We need healing, God. We need hope.
God of grace, for every person impacted by this spread, for every New Yorker, for everyone on this earth, we pray for your protection and your mercy. For every person holding each one of us up, even unknowingly, we offer deep gratitude. Just like the disciples, locked away and scared after Jesus’ death, we’re locked away, scared and praying. May the resurrected Jesus make it in through our locked doors too.
God be behind us, before us and beside us.
Because of Jesus, Amen.