In the gap between death and memory, emptiness resides with an unwelcome depth and breadth. It is echoed in the chasm of Holy Saturday, in the wait for Easter Sunday. The tradition carries an unexpected wisdom: in so many ways, life means dealing with the reality of loss and brokenness, of grief and sorrows, of regaining balance and footing and coming again face to face with Dawn and Light.
Nestled in the richness of the liturgical calendar and the liturgy itself are practical strategies and structures for helping humans to find life, meaning and purpose, to cope with tangles of emotion and circumstances, to navigate suffering. It is the invaluable offer of a community to provide the assurance that in those most lonely and painful of moments, no one is actually alone. There are those who walked the same path before, those who are walking it now, and those who will walk it in times to come. There are endless variations in context and culture, but an ultimate sameness in simply being human. Jesus’ first steps and last breaths are evidence of that shared experience. So are Peter’s and Mary Magadalene’s and yours and mine.
Tonight, the Exsultet will mark the beginning of the Easter Vigil, slowly dousing that open gap with a generous light. The celebrant will raise the cross to the words, “This is the wood of the cross….” The service begins not with a burst but with a whisper, with three separate acknowledgements of how that cross is a part of life experience. Darkness is dispelled not by denying the reality of life, but by recognizing it.
And then, the liturgy, the coming together as a community, a gathering of people each living humanity in the best they can at the moment. All flawed. All broken. All gathered. All seeking. And so the celebration opens to the possibility and reality of mysteries in life. The Paschal Mystery is really our mystery, the mystery of what being human is all about. And somehow, the emptiness of grief becomes the joy of a new beginning.
This year, Easter is celebrated in the ashes of Notre Dame and the generations scarred by the scandals wracking the Catholic church and culture. Both are reminders of the weight of loss, the consequences of failure, and the need to rebuild. But the rebuilding, like the resolution of grief, is a personal and individualized experience as well as a communal and public one. The steps are uncertain and tentative, the path not quite clear, the controversies and conflict endemic. But the chances are there, the invitations are open.
This Easter offers the chance to actually become those persons who are willing to strive to become better people, to live so as to make a difference in the lives of others, to recall at once the finiteness of each life and the vast possibility of good available to each one. Easter is about meeting that awful gap head on and trusting in the Light that surrounds us as well as the Light within us.