Part of the way through the Easter Vigil Mass I realized something I had subconsciously believed even as I intellectually knew it wasn’t true. I realized that COVID-19 wasn’t confined to Lent. The absence of public Masses wasn’t just a wild Lenten penance. It was a reality that was going to endure for who-knows-how-long. In the midst of a time of penance and sacrifice, it was somewhat understandable to accept and embrace this unasked for restriction. Yet in the time of Easter joy, how did one continue to embrace this cross, even while gesturing toward the empty tomb?
Intellectually, I was fully aware that this was an enduring thing. Yet after passing into the Easter season, I have been pondering this odd cross-section of joy and sacrifice. Of course, it is possible to be joyful in the midst of sacrifice. Love, nearly by definition, involves sacrificing ourselves for the good of the beloved. Yet long, protracted sacrifice in the middle of a liturgical season set aside for rejoicing, feasting, and innumerable alleluias being uttered? How does one do that?
I don’t exactly know, but I am trying.
It helps that I try to often remind my students that we are in the Easter season and should do something special to celebrate this time. At times, I find myself recording videos for them and thinking I need to do this, too.
It has surprised me how I can sometimes enter into prayer when I am praying “remotely.” Like when Pope Francis had some time of adoration during the Urbi et Orbi blessing a few weeks ago. Sitting on my couch in front of my computer and adoring Jesus in Rome seemed kind of silly. Yet as I prayed alone yet communally, I found that I was able to enter into prayer. It wasn’t a perfect scenario, but it worked in that moment. This was a moment of joy, to find myself with Jesus even as I was separated from His Eucharistic presence.
So here we are, fully into the Easter season, steadily working our way through the Easter Octave, filled with joy and yet still experiencing sacrifice. But I guess that makes it a bit like that first Easter Sunday when St. Mary Magdalene encountered Christ at the tomb. In her desire to keep him near, we see Jesus saying to not hold onto Him. Wasn’t this miraculous triumph over death the fullness of joy?
Fra Angelico’s “Noli Me Tangere” reveals the unwavering joy of Easter morning and the not-yet that seems to surround our days here on earth. The Resurrection has come, life has conquered death, sin has been defeated. And yet we dwell in the land where full entry into that joy, into that promise, must be delayed.
When placed in such perfect company, perhaps this is the perfect Easter season for us. Awake to the joy that has been purchased at a great price, we still abide in a world where death still happens, where partings still take place, where we taste bitterness in the midst of gladness. We aren’t home yet. Our journey isn’t finished. But we are permitted a glimpse of the glory that is to be revealed to us, a ray of that endless light that we will enter into someday in the not-too-distant future. Inside the Church’s womb, we are growing and laboring towards our bursting forth to eternal, unconquerable life.
Photo from wikiart.org