EASTER IN THE TIME OF PANDEMIC

Never before in our lifetimes have we experienced a Lent like Lent 2020. The extraordinary measures taken amid a global health pandemic occurred in tandem with the Lenten season. While public Masses may have been temporarily suspended, it did not mean commemoration of the Holy Sacrifice ceased. It also did not cancel Christianity’s most hallowed day, Easter Sunday. 

After the long Lent of 2020, Easter’s promises of new life in Christ takes on new meaning. The solitude enacted by restrictions placed on our everyday life provided opportunities for a new way of looking at life and its greater context, God. Perhaps we took too much for granted, wanted things more than we needed, relativized relationships and our treatment of the other. Holy Week and especially Good Friday provides us a path to ponder these matters in union with the trials and sufferings endured by Jesus, from the Last Supper to the hasty placement of his battered and bloodied body in the tomb. 

“Those drops of blood I shed for you,” BlaisePascal reflected in Pensées 

Our comfort zones were disrupted during this time of uncertainty and crises. But Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) once said, “There is no experience of God unless one goes out from the business of everyday living.”  

“We need to keep in mind that there is always hope in the Resurrection,” Vicar General Monsignor Stephen Doktorczyk said. “There is a saying, ‘there would be no Easter Sunday without Good Friday.’ Jesus had to suffer before rising. We, too, are suffering greatly.” 

Christian art often depicts the Resurrection by having a triumphant Christ emerge from a sarcophagus while the Roman guards sleep. His right hand is in the gesture of benediction while he clutches a banner of the Triumphal cross in his left. In the Gospel of St. John, we are told, “In the place where he had been crucified there was in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried” (19:41). It was in a garden, Gethsemane, where Jesus confirmed the will of the Father and where he was betrayed by Judas. One garden gives way to another, one of new and everlasting life. 

It was also in a garden where Adam and Eve were cast out of Paradise. In the Resurrection of Christ, the garden from the Fall is renewed and fulfilled. Jesus becomes the new Adam. An ancient tradition says the ubilucum mundi, the center of the world, is Jerusalem, where God created Adam. In our own Creed, recited every Sunday, we profess that before rising again on the third day, Christ “descended into hell.” This is the focus for meditation on Holy Saturday, a time of darkness for those living, before the brilliant light of Resurrection. Yet even here Adam, the first man, is not forgotten. A verse from an ancient Syriac liturgy states, “He visited Adam in Sheol,” the Hebrew word for the place of the dead, “and brought him astonishing news: He promised him life, and the Resurrection that would completely renew him.” 

Death, then, no longer has the last word. In Eastern Christianity, this moment of anastasis is depicted in Christ emerging from the sarcophagus clutching the hands of Adam and Eve, pulling them out of the realm of the dead. Psalm 24 is frequently associated with the descent into hell, popularized in the Middle Ages. “Lift up your heads, O gates; be lifted, you ancient portals, that the king of glory may enter (24:9).” A popular legend told of Satan and his minions panicking upon hearing this thunderous voice outside the gates. They look at each other in dread, quoting the next verse (24:10): “Who is this king of glory; the Lord of hosts, he is the king of glory!” 

The richness of how the faith has been expressed over time hinges on the reality that Jesus of Nazareth triumphed over death on the third day. Monsignor Doktorczyk recalled being in the Holy Land for both Holy Week and Easter Week in 2006. “On Easter Sunday, a priest friend and I travelled by car from Jerusalem to Galilee,” he explained. “We reflected on Matthew 28:10,” where Jesus encounters “fearful yet overjoyed” disciples scrambling to tell the others of the empty tomb. “Do not be afraid,” said Jesus. “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee. There they will see me.” This struck Monsignor Doktorczyk in a powerful way as he was doing just that. 

But the reality of the Resurrection transcends time and place. The Easter Season is an opportunity for us to look upon the world around us with new eyes. Monsignor Doktorczyk invites us to ask ourselves, “Is our hope in Jesus Christ? Do we believe all things are possible for God (cf. Romans 8:28)? We pray that this difficult Lenten season will make us stronger in faith in Jesus Christ and much less focused on ‘other gods.’”

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