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Easter in Our Own Upper RoomsEaster in Our Own Upper Rooms

Easter in Our Own Upper Rooms

Finding ourselves in isolation without the usual traditions and celebrations to mark Holy Week, our Easter this year is similar to that of the first, when Jesus left the Apostles, writes Mirjana Villeneuve.

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Topics: Faith, COVID-19
Easter in Our Own Upper Rooms April 9, 2020  |  By Mirjana Villeneuve
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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. 

Sheen says of the Apostles isolated in the Upper Room, “At present, they had sadness because they would no longer see Him in the flesh, but their joy would come through a spiritual quickening, and that joy would have a permanent character about it which the world could not take away.” 

But this joy was not always tangible. Christ reappeared to the Apostles for a while, but then He ascended, leaving them physically once again, and this time for good. The Apostles’ joy could not have been free from fear and confusion – this joy had to have been based in hope. As Pope Francis once said, “Christian joy is a hopeful joy. But in the moment of trial we do not see it… [it is] a joy that is purified by trials, even by everyday trials.” He says further that this hope gives us the freedom to pray, “I know, Lord that this sorrow will turn to joy. I do not know how, but I know it will!” (Morning Meditation, Friday May 23, 2014).

I wonder if the Apostles had the courage to pray this prayer while they were in the Upper Room during those three days before the Resurrection. I wonder if we do now. Perhaps the Apostles took the time to remind each other of the words of Jesus that had comforted them during His public ministry. Maybe they repeated to each other, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you” (John 14:18), or “take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33). 

As we return to the Upper Rooms of our homes to attend to our families, and to our interior Upper Rooms as we attend to our own hearts, we are united with the Apostles in our grief, hope, and confusion. We await the coming of Christ – not just at Easter, which will pass quietly this year, but at the final Resurrection, where our joy will ultimately be fulfilled. And so, let us contemplate and embrace the promise of life that Christ left us. Let us expect Him to enter the Upper Rooms of our homes and our hearts this Easter, even in the midst of our current grief, with or without Easter Saturday tulips. 

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