The Marist community I live in is adjacent to a church and just several blocks from the nearest hospital. In this time of pandemic, that means the most frequent sounds I hear from outside are church bells and ambulances. Some days, I’m not sure which I hear more often.
The wail of the ambulance sirens is a grim reminder of our current situation, especially given that there is such little other traffic noise to obscure their shrill cry. Yet, the sound is an ambiguous signifier: Does it represent tragedy or rather hope for tragedy averted? In fact, it represents both, while also witnessing to the stalwart determination of the first responders who risk their own well-being in order to serve those in urgent need.
The ability to engage this kind of ambiguity is a key feature of the human spirit and a necessary component of reflective Christian practice. Is there any symbol more starkly ambiguous than the Cross? Is there any day more paradoxically named than Good Friday?
We can choose to view the crucifixion of Jesus as a brutal travesty inflicted upon an innocent victim by a cruel and oppressive occupier. If we see the execution of Christ as something that was done to him, it is an outrage. However, we can also choose to see the crucifixion of Jesus as an act of love that he welcomed upon himself in spite of the suffering it entailed. If we see Christ offering up his life for our sake, the same event instead signifies outrageous grace. Both perspectives hold significant weight and can be used to shine the light of truth on numerous realities in our world today.
This is an especially paradoxical Triduum. On Holy Thursday, we observed the great celebration of loving Communion without being able to join together outside of our own respective homes. Although some political leaders once naively thought that Easter Sunday could mark a return to normal routines and rituals, there are current projections that the day on which we celebrate the triumph of life over death could end up being the deadliest in the USA’s particular struggle against COVID-19.
Again though, there is another way of looking at things. Suppose that Easter Sunday does mark the highwater mark of American lives lost to the coronavirus on a single day. Wouldn’t that mean that it is also the day that the tide starts to recede? After all, there would be no place left to go but down. We must remember that the first Easter didn’t finally expel all evil from this world; instead it demonstrated that evil cannot withstand the eventual triumph of love. Death has not yet been completely vanquished, but it has been dealt a mortal blow. The only thing left to dispel the lingering darkness is the inexorable kindling of grace’s fire.
This is an especially important year to remember that the Church sees Easter not as a single day but rather as a season lasting 50 days. If the dawn of Easter still finds us huddled in our respective homes hoping for safety, the twilight of this year’s Easter will surely find us already enjoying or eagerly anticipating the end of lockdown.
Easter is a process. First the tomb was found empty, leading to much speculation as to what that could mean. Then the Risen Jesus appeared to one or two people at a time, who were then not necessarily believed when they shared the good news with others. Eventually, Jesus showed himself to larger groups. There were many people living during that time who never had the chance to see Christ resurrected. A number of these came to believe anyway, just as today’s believers have. We can choose to still hear the church bells among the sirens, and their tone may even help us transform how we hear those sirens.
There is a reason that the traditional time for Easter worship is sunrise rather than mid-afternoon… it’s only just beginning.
This week’s ‘ear candy’ is a beautiful song I was very recently reminded of. Although it was originally about human love, I could easily imagine Jesus singing the lyrics to each one of us. What better way to mark these days in which we remember and celebrate the power of Christ’s love for us? The ‘brain food’ come from National Catholic Reporter’s Vatican correspondent and shares some reflections of Pope Francis on what the Catholic Church can learn from this time of pandemic.
Ear Candy: “Annie’s Song” by John Denver
Brain Food: “Francis Envisions a Post-pandemic Church ‘Not Closed off in Institutions” by Joshua J. McElwee
Come back next Saturday for a new post!