12 April 2020
On a day like today, just like at Christmas, we’re invited to go down memory lane and remember Easters past. I have simple memories of Easter:
As a little boy getting an Easter egg in a cup from my father.
As an altar server, serving the Easter Vigil and then getting up early to do the same at
the first mass of Sunday morning.
As a priest seeing the joy of parishioners with Lent behind them, dressing up with themselves and their children on a sunny Easter morning.
As a young boy seeing the planes go over our house as the state celebrations of 1966 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising which was the beginning of the end of
British rule in Ireland.
More recently, four years ago, getting up to celebrate Easter Sunday morning here at Mepkin, only to find myself six hours later on a plane to Dublin to be with my mother as she went home to God.
What are your Easter memories? Of one thing we can be sure, Easter 2020 is an Easter like no other. Who could have positively guessed, even at the beginning of Lent, that the world would be in the throes of a deadly pandemic and that our churches would be empty and many people would be celebrating Easter Sunday virtually with the help of new technology. Who could have imagined it? And where is the risen Easter Jesus in all this?
Alleluia. Can we really say this today when things are so difficult in the world we’re living in? But yet, I believe that we never needed the Easter message more fully than today, the voice of hope in despair. What I found most helpful in all of this was reflecting on Michael Downey’s recent book on Christ’s descent into Hell, which was recently our refectory book in the monastery. It was as if Michael were writing the book for the present crisis, even though it was written well before now. He spoke about a world living in fear and says that for many, the word “alleluia” rings hollow. That is, he believes, because we have taken Easter Sunday in isolation from the days which went before- Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Just like we don’t read a mystery story from the end to the beginning, so we need to tell our story from the beginning. From Thursday evening through to Sunday morning, the story needs to be read forward first, and only then backwards from beginning to end. We know the experience of betrayal of Thursday and the Good Friday moments of pain, loss, anguish, loneliness, and darkness. Then comes Saturday. Saturday is the day of pondering, pausing, and waiting. Michael says that in becoming a Holy Saturday people, the church might give some small witness that here in Christ’s tomb it is possible to have a future. And if we experience the God of Good Friday and Holy Saturday, we know it’s not a God who is up there in the sky, impassive and uncaring. Our God is a God who is deeply involved in our pain, deeply involved with us in our suffering. And so that kind of God who suffers is a God we can relate to, especially in this time as we celebrate Easter Sunday.
Having been told by the bereaved Mary that something is afoot, the equally bereaved James and John went to the tomb in hope of hope. Today, we are truly a Good Friday and a Holy Saturday people, tiptoeing to the tomb, and we are, in spite of all the pain, an Easter people- not in exuberance, but in hope.
Who says we can’t celebrate Easter this year? Who says Christ is absent this Easter Sunday? In traditional works of art, the risen Jesus is portrayed in white, but this year, he’s in white, and blue, and green, and red.
He’s in hospitals, dressed as nurses, caregivers, doctors, and chaplains; He is risen.
In truck drivers supplying needed provisions, He is risen.
In policemen caring for others by policing deserted streets and enforcing discipline, He is risen.
In the churches that are empty, as priests celebrate daily mass and offer consolation to the bereaved, He is risen.
In supermarkets where workers are replenishing their shelves or cleaners moving our garbage, He is risen.
In those reaching out to the homeless, the poor the lonely, the elderly, and the young, He is risen.
Jesus Christ meets you in life. This year, without candles and bells, but in the incense of goodness all around us on our streets, He is risen.
So quietly we celebrate this Easter Sunday. I’ll leave the last word to Pope Francis, “Easter always ends in the Resurrection and in peace, but this is not just a happy ending to a sad story; it’s a commitment to walking a difficult path, but He trod on this path first. He gives us comfort and strength.”
And so, my dear brothers and sisters, we can say today on this strange Easter Sunday 2020, “Yes, He is risen, alleluia!”