I was waiting until Holy Saturday to buy tulips from the Farmer’s Market. Over the years as a student in Kingston, I developed this little tradition for myself, as a final preparation before the Easter Vigil. Of course, this year is different. In my fifth and final year as a student at Queen’s University, I am not even in Kingston, and the Farmer’s Market is closed. Worse, there will be no Easter Vigil Mass, nor any other of our usual Holy Week celebrations.
When COVID-19 struck Canada in the middle of Lent, many of us immediately recognized the metaphorical connection. We identified this season of isolation, fear, and sacrifice as a desert. And, as in every liturgical and Biblical desert, we reached for the hope of the Resurrection. So when all Holy Week Masses were officially canceled in my archdiocese, I cried. Losing our usual Sunday Mass routine was hard enough, but with this news I found myself and many of my friends and family grieving the loss of Easter.
It makes sense – we need the hope of the Resurrection now more than ever, and the ability to journey with Christ through His Passion and triumph over death through the Easter Triduum was a final comfort that, along with so many other comforts these days, has been stripped away.
This ability to face hardship with unwavering hope is an explicitly Christian trait. Our hope is an anchor; it conquers death. As Ven. Fulton Sheen famously said, “Unless there is a Good Friday in your life, there can be no Easter Sunday.” It is the hope of the Resurrection and the promise of life after death that make Good Friday good. What are we supposed to do when a global tragedy disrupts our liturgical narrative of life and hope? How are we supposed to react when this Lent of disease and death extends past the commemoration of our Lord’s triumph over precisely these things?
As I was crying on the phone to one my friends about the loss of Easter Mass, she stopped me and pointed out that what we’re experiencing is a lot like what the Apostles experienced when Jesus told them He was going to die. Every time He brought it up, He was met with His Apostles’ confusion, anger, and frustration. Sheen writes in Life of Christ, “Because Our Lord said that He was going to the Father, the Apostles were extremely troubled, for that meant His absence from them; they said: we cannot understand what He means by it” (italics in original). How could the Messiah die? Surely, this was not the only way! Can’t God, who is all powerful, think of another way to save the world? The apostles were plunged into confusion that degenerates into complete chaos as the Passion narrative progresses.
Feeling somewhat comforted by the fact that Jesus’ first followers shared in our present frustration and grief, I began to reflect on their journey and realized that our similarities don’t end at their initial confusion. After the death of Christ, out of fear and necessity, the apostles returned to the Upper Room and locked the doors. In effect, they were in self-isolation – and by the same token, we now find ourselves in our own Upper Rooms.
I wonder what the Apostles did to pass the time and to take their minds off their anxiety and grief while they were in self-isolation. I wonder if they broke out ancient board games, sang together, reminisced, and lost patience with each other. I wonder if they worked themselves into a state of mental agony, trying to make sense of everything. Of course, they prayed. But just as we can’t pray in front of the tabernacle at the moment, they couldn’t pray with our Lord. The lack of Christ’s physical presence must have been the most devastating of all.