Something New is Happening
Once more we’ve come to the high point of the church year in the midst of a pandemic. While churches in many parts will be open this Easter, most of us won’t gather in person. Those of us who do will gather at a distance, our faces shrouded by protective masks. As they have been for so long now, our celebrations will be muted due to the necessary restrictions meant to keep us safe. There will be no processions, or communal singing. There will be no shared cup, no handshakes or hugs at the sign of peace. There’ll be no blessing of Easter breads, and no post-mass brunches with friends and family.
Even more troubling, by the time we gather on Sunday more than 23,000 Canadians will have died from Covid-19; this in addition to more than 2.8 million of our brothers and sisters, world-wide. Moreover, while we’re not always conscious of it, most of us are living with an undercurrent of anxiety about our own health and that of our loved ones. We tamp down fears about our finances, we worry about our elder sisters and brothers, and the other vulnerable people in our lives. In Kenya, many of our brother Oblates, along with the majority of the country, have gone into lockdown once again due to a severe spike in cases. On top of this, it is likely that the majority of Kenyans (along with most people in the Global South) won’t have access to the vaccine until sometime in 2022 or even 2023. Just today, new lockdowns have been announced for parts of Quebec and all of Ontario. Significant restrictions remain in place in most other provinces and territories.
The past year has been filled with pain and loss, and at times I’m aware of a persistent weariness and sadness within me. I know it’s tied to frustration and grief, and in the absence of the communal gatherings where ritual and stories can be shared, tears shed and hugs given, I’m not always sure what to do with it. I’m not alone in this; it’s our shared experience. Many, if not most of us are tired and numb after a year of quarantines and lockdowns, and perhaps unsure of our resilience for the months ahead.
Our concerns extend beyond the pandemic: to racial division and violence, the climate crisis and economic disparity. Recently, many of you expressed your anger and sadness at the recent pronouncements from the CDF about the blessing of same sex unions. It is sadly ironic that a statement about blessing was experienced almost universally by LGBTQ Catholics, their families and allies, and by many others, as a curse. A community already marginalized are left feeling more alienated than ever.
We worry too about our Oblate future. Throughout our Forward Together process many of you have expressed your anxiety at our aging Oblate membership, the lack of new, younger members (be they Oblates or Associates) and declining numbers in general, and what this means for the legacy of our Oblate presence in Canada.
With all that we’ve experienced and all we carry, I’m grateful that at the Easter Vigil this year we’re given Mark’s account of the resurrection. I find it instructive and comforting. With Mary Magdalene, Salome, and Mary the Mother of James, we hear the angel’s words from inside the empty tomb; “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.” But in Mark’s gospel, this good news of the resurrection isn’t met with joy and belief, but with fear: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” This is why I’m grateful for this story. The response of these three women seems so real. Confusion, fear and doubt drive them from the place where salvation just happened. Eventually, these first witnesses to the resurrection will come to faith and share their stories with others, but it will take time; this is the point of the story. An instinctive human response to uncertainty and change more often than not, is fear and withdrawal. In the midst of a wounded world, it’s only with time spent in quiet and in sharing our stories with others, that we begin to see that something new is happening.
Farmers and gardeners know something of this. A few months back in the dead of winter just after Christmas, Richard began to plant his seeds, and today once again, the windowsills at our house are filled with seedlings. In its time, from beneath the surface and slowly in the dark, new life emerges. Similarly, about two thousand years ago, the singular event in all history happened in a darkened tomb. Jesus rose from the dead. God brought life from death.
A recent e-meditation from Henri Nouwen (March 27 – https://henrinouwen.org/1/), expands on the theme. “We can deny the reality of life, or we can face it. When we face it not in despair, but with the eyes of Jesus, we discover that where we least expect it, something is hidden that holds a promise stronger than death itself. Jesus lived his life with the trust that God’s love is stronger than death and that death, therefore, does not have the last word. He invites us to face the painful reality of our existence with the same trust.”
As we move through the Triduum into the early days of Easter, still in the midst of the pandemic, may we remember the resurrection is both a promise and an invitation: a promise that suffering and death are not the last word, and an invitation to be patiently present, to our own pain and that of the world; for it’s here that healing happens, and hope is born.
Happy Easter to you all!
By Ken Thorson, OMI