Easter Sunday found them sleeping; unable to stay awake. The deep sleep of unbearable grief. Fear, pain, shame, disappointment…a pall too heavy to shake. Who could understand the events that preceded the dawning of this Pascha? A lifetime ago they had shared the cup, drank in thanksgiving, satisfied every hunger with the Bread of Life. And yet, not hours after they left his table singing songs of praise, the frenzy and confusion of evil was unleashed. A kiss of betrayal. A man’s ear severed. Screaming in the dark. Flickering firelight. Denial spoken three times.
His closest friends lurked in side streets while a stranger carried his cross.
How long did they stay? Did they see their Lord stripped of his clothes? Nailed to the tree? Did they hear his anguished cries? His words of pleading forgiveness? Did they see him taken from the cross and laid in the tomb? Did they know where their Lord was buried? Scripture mentions only one of the twelve enduring it all.
I imagine them finding each other two-by-two — finding consolation as they would soon find calling, embracing in wordless anguish. I imagine the Mother ministering to the sons gifted her at the foot of the cross.
They hunkered down. The doors were barred, and Holy Saturday night descended with a pitchy blackness of fear, anxiety, shame, isolation and desolation.
We too find ourselves in a long Holy Saturday.
Confusion, like a tidal wave, overtook us. Fear penetrates every ordinary action. Gone are all familiar expressions of compassion and solidarity. We are isolated, sometimes from the ones we love most. Families are barred from the deathbeds of their mother, their brother, their father, their child. Though they would give anything to journey to the foot of the cross, they are denied even that. Trucks instead of tombs. Where has have they gone? Where are they laid?
A lifetime ago we brought ourselves to the heavenly banquet table — a routine with little thanksgiving for the great Thanksgiving. Now we are desolate. Starved for the Bread of Life. A lifetime ago we could add absolution to a list of Saturday afternoon errands and be restored as easily as walking in the doors of the church, our home. Now the doors are locked, and we peer through the windows looking for the flickering red flame of assurance that we are not forsaken. Not orphaned. Not alone.
Is it any wonder that the Apostles slept while their Lord wept bloody tears? Is it any wonder that the first Pascha found them sleeping again? Is it any wonder that we find ourselves overtaken by a dreadful numbness? Click, clicking from one new story to the next. TV on, movies streaming — drowning in information, yet dulled to the life that surrounds us.
Easter arrives with no fanfare this year. No trumpets or triumphant vigil Masses. No heady scent of lilies or feasts around the tables of our families. This year we have no choice but to wait for the gradual unfolding of paschal mercies.
The first Easter came quietly too. The glory of the Lord crept over streets and byways, through windows and doors with the rising of the dawn.
Peter and the beloved disciple raced to see the empty tomb. They saw the burial cloths; Peter went into the tomb…and then.
Then they went home and locked the door “for they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” Having heard the testimony of the women and seen for themselves that the tomb was empty, they hid.
The evening of the first day of the week found the Apostles holed up “for fear of the Jews.” The resurrection did not suddenly relieve the Apostles of their humanity. They were still afraid, still grief stricken, ashamed, heartsick, and disappointed. Resurrection came to them incrementally. Over the next forty days, Christ met them in their brokenness. He cooked breakfast on the shoreline to fill the empty bellies of his children. Christ walked through doors. (Did he stand and knock first? Were the Apostles afraid to let him in?) Christ offered them his side to assuage their disbelief and every encounter began with “Peace be with you.”
Resurrection came for the Apostles as it does for us — like the barely perceptible lightening of the dark before dawn. It may be that the Paschal sun rises on our spirits still wearied, confused, and desolate, but we are in good company. The communion of Saints is at the heart of our Faith and this year we walk through the Paschal season with the first Christians who, like us, were overjoyed, but also puzzled and terrified by the things that had taken place.
The invitation of this Easter is to wake up and unlock the doors; to hear the whisper of boundless love spoken to the broken hearted: “Awake, oh sleeper.” Awake. Wake up. “And Christ will give you light.”