“We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song!” -- St. Pope John Paul II
All throughout this Lent, if you’ve been on one form of social media or another, you have probably seen things like “this is the Lentiest Lent I have ever Lented” or “this Lent we gave up everything” or some other quip about our current situation due to the pandemic, and its timeliness for Lent. Indeed, when it first began, and we found ourselves more and more limited, we thought at first that it would fit nicely into the Lenten calendar. (How convenient, the kids finally accomplished giving up school for Lent.) Aside from the light humor, we know that these measures are saving a lot of lives, and understand that in the midst of our limitations, many people are suffering in ways we shudder to think about.
As it goes on, we’ve realized that the stay-at-home orders and crowd limitations will last much longer than we originally thought, and that many things will be different for a long time. Even when things begin to change for the better, it will be a slow return to normal, or whatever normal will look like.
It paints a somewhat dour picture for Easter Sunday.
Normally, on Easter, for those who participated in the season of Lent, it is a time of rejoicing and emancipation from
the penances that we took on. Even if for Christians who don’t observe Lent, it is the most sacred and joyful of feasts. It is the day of the Lord’s Resurrection, a return to the conclusion of the Paschal Mystery, where Jesus conquers death and sin. Death used to be the last word, but now, Christ is the last Word, and within Him, we pass through death into a new life. On Easter Sunday, even mass seems to have a new freshness with the singing of the Gloria again, bells ringing, more hymns being sung, and the lighting of the Easter candle and renewal of our baptismal promises.
All of these things, as with any celebration, are meant to draw us into the meaning of the celebration. But now, these signs that symbolize the meaning of Easter and the Resurrection will be absent from us. Even with a virtual mass, the lack of congregation with our parish and even family members we are separated from might make us feel that Easter is just not the same this year.
Obviously, it isn’t all about emotion, but after “feeling” Lent differently this year, will we be able to embrace Easter when nothing of our circumstances will change? We can’t just let go of social distancing. We can’t just ignore the multitude of suffering. This is not the first time, of course, that Easter has been celebrated during great upheaval, but for most of us today, it is our time to celebrate Easter during a time of great upheaval. It is an invitation to ask Jesus for graces of the Resurrection in a new way.
If this were a normal year, we would have let go of our self-imposed penances. Instead, what can we let go of and hand over to Jesus this Easter? Perhaps, there are new fears and anxieties, or a desire to control something or someone. We can let go of these and give them to Christ, who triumphs over suffering and makes all things new. It is not an avoidance of our reality or willful ignorance of suffering, but a new disposition towards it. One of the graces of the Resurrection that we are invited to receive is the hope of the Resurrection; the knowledge that the suffering of this world passes away, and that nothing we suffer here can compare to the glory of Heaven.
When we renew our baptismal promises during Easter mass, we are asked to revisit the pillars of our faith and re-bind ourselves to them. Pope Benedict XVI, in a meditation for Holy Thursday talked about the Passover tradition of the Jews returning to Jerusalem each year, and said: “In the course of a year, a people are always in danger of disintegrating, not only through external causes, but also interiorly, and of losing hold of the inner motivation that sustains it. It needs to return to its fundamental origin.” Our faith, our conviction in the reality of the Resurrection even if we did not witness it ourselves, must be rekindled each year. Renew your promises. Pray the Apostles’ Creed fervently, asking the Holy Spirit to breathe new life into your faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen” (Hebrews 11:1). From this, make your home a new church.
Finally, as any day of the year, we are invited to encounter Jesus more deeply in our hearts. On Easter, we can place ourselves in the shoes of the people who met him on the first Easter morning. St. Mary Magdalene finds Him in the garden, and after recognizing Him, tries to embrace Him, leading to a very social-distancy comment from Jesus: “Do not touch me”, or in some translations, “Do not hold onto me” (John 20:17). Jesus tells Mary Magdalene that He has not yet ascended to His Father. He was preparing Mary and the other disciples to encounter Him in a new way. Away from our churches and communities of faith, it can feel like we are unable to embrace Christ as we wish, especially without Holy Communion. But it forces us, while we wait