I would like to wish everyone a Happy Easter, but what a strange Easter this is. This week, we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, the day he came back from the grave. This should be a day of unbridled joy, when all the struggles of Lent are over and we enter into unrestricted celebration of the reality that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! God has won the victory over sin and death, we are redeemed.
Somehow this year though, at least at first, I think it rings a little hollow. We’re still all stuck at home. The virus is raging through our country, it keeps edging closer to us every day, we’re starting to hear of real people we know who are being tested positive. It’s a very scary world! Yet, today, in the midst of all of that, Easter comes anyway. I think really if we step back for a moment, perhaps our Easter this year is a little bit more like that first Easter than we’re quite ready to admit. After all, if we really pay attention to the characters in the story at Easter, what are they thinking and feeling? They just felt an Earthquake, angels appeared, twice we hear in the Gospel at the Vigil the words, “Do not be afraid.” In the Gospel on Sunday, we hear how they found the tomb empty, but still didn’t understand what that really meant. Just after they discovered the Tomb was empty, they would gather in the upper room, the story we’ll hear next Sunday, hidden out of fear. You might even say they were “Sheltering-in-Place.” Yet right there, in that upper room, Jesus would come to them and greet them, offering them his peace.
I know a lot of us are still a little afraid of where things might lead with this pandemic, there had even been a suggestion to the Holy Father that perhaps we should postpone Easter until this is over. Yet, in his wisdom, here we are. Even in the middle of a plague, Easter came anyway. If death itself could not hold our Lord in the grave, COVID-19 certainly isn’t going to either. That, really, I think is the grace we’re celebrating today. We have real, true faith, that no matter what happens, our Lord Jesus Christ is right there walking alongside us, leading the way.
That’s the real grace of Easter, the reality that we follow the one who conquered even death itself. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t still take appropriate precautions (we should). It doesn’t mean that nothing bad is ever going to happen to us, (it will, just as it happened to Him). That means that no matter what we have to walk through, he will be with us and see us through it. There may still be a battle, but we know in the end He will emerge victorious, and we’ll be right there with him.
As we walk through this time together, I think one of the more uplifting stories I heard, was of St. Charles Borromeo, who founded the seminary system that we have. He was a priest in the Italian City of Milan in 1576 when the plague struck. He looked around and saw the need for people to stay apart and stay home so that they could limit the spread of the plague. For an entire year, from 1576 though 1577, St. Charles closed the all the Churches of Milan, just like we’re doing here. Instead, he arranged for mass to be celebrated at a different street intersection each day so that they people could look out their windows and see mass going on. Now in those days, as people typically only received communion once a year, they were still able to participate in some imperfect way. The faith found a way.
This weekend, as I watched the view counts on our livestreamed masses, and saw that around 320 people were watching the whole way through on Holy Thursday and Good Friday, I thought to myself, “you know, that’s nearly as many people as we’d normally have in the Church. As I looked at it a little later, we had 1,300 people who saw each of our Holy Week services and stopped to watch at least 10 seconds of it, and that’s before we count those who were able to see our Triduum from 10 different State Prisons. Just like in the days of St. Charles Borromeo, the faith finds a way.
That’s the real beauty of Easter. When we stand together with one who has risen from the death, in the end we have nothing to fear. He has conquered it all. Sure we’ll still have battles to face, but the great war of Good and Evil, Heaven and Hell, for our souls in all eternity has been won. Christ the true king is victorious. So as we stay at home, venturing just to the grocery store with our masks on, know that while we’re still in the midst of the battle hear on earth, and there is lots to do in building the kingdom of God, as long as we cling to Him, in the final count for all eternity, we’re on the winning side. For today, Jesus Christ has conquered even death itself, and he invites us to follow him.
Father Matthew Baum is the Parish Administrator at Prince of Peace Church in Northern Cambria, PA.