This year, Holy Week began by watching on a computer screen, my husband’s Nana being buried. As the priest was offering up a graveside prayer, he praised God for his son dying on the cross. He reminded us that “He is risen!” He told those in attendance-those in person, standing far away from him and many wearing masks- and those watching from afar online, where believers go when their souls leave this broken earth. In grief, during a time of uncertainty and fear, there is immense comfort in this truth. And yet, walking through grief during Holy Week doesn’t seem so out of place.
While the loss of a Grandmother to Covid-19 has made this pandemic more personal than we would have liked, I’ve found myself deeper in grief than I had expected. I quickly realized I’m not only grieving the loss of a person I loved, but also so much more. From restrictions on travel to cancelled vacations to those sick and scared, laying alone in hospital beds to the loss of life-as we knew it it. It feels like I’m grieving a thousand deaths. We were so set in our routines and daily rhythms just a couple short months ago that the reeling it all in feels overwhelming. I’m sad I haven’t seen my loved ones for the past month and not knowing when I’ll see them again makes me anxious. I’m grieving a lonelier Easter Sunday ahead. I’m grieving not being in church. I’m grieving the healthcare workers quarantining from their families. I’m grieving the grim state of the world. I’m grieving the lost sense of freedom and the ability to jump in the car to run an errand and having absolutely no fears or hesitations about it.
Grieving during Holy Week has turned my thoughts to the Marys at the cross, standing with the disciples and the friends and loved ones of Christ. Those that looked on helplessly as he hung nailed to the wood he carried to his death. I can’t help but think how they must have felt in that moment. Perhaps they were terrified, grief stricken, angry, horrified and beside themselves. The man who performed miracles in their presence was now dying on a cross. There must have been a sense to them that he was untouchable before then. Could they have felt disbelief in what they were witnessing? I can’t help but compare how I imagine they felt to how so many of us are feeling right now in this uncertain and scary world we’ve so quickly found ourselves in.
Let’s look at the book of John and compare the first Holy Week to Holy Week 2020.
Jesus was arrested in chapter 18.
Our freedoms and peace have been arrested by covid-19. We feel like prisoners in our home. Many of the luxuries we enjoy are not currently available to us.
The crucifixtion In chapter 19.
What emotions have you felt when a loved one was dying? Those who loved Jesus were likely experiencing grief, fear, uncertainty and trauma, much like many are feeling today. There’s a helplessness many are experiencing as loved ones are in hospitals alone and suffering while visitors are not allowed.
His death, in chapter 19.
The weight of loss is heavy. His family, friends and followers were likely confused and fearful of what may lay ahead. Life may have felt uncertain. Many of us are grieving the loss of loved ones now or living with fear of dying or losing someone you love. Times feel uneasy and we don’t know what the next day might bring.
His burial in chapter 19.
Joseph of Arimathea along with Nicodemus prepared Jesus’s body. A somber act of love done in grief and mourning, wrapping and preparing the body. I imagine how sobering and heartbreaking that must have been. Funerals have changed amidst Covid-19. Restrictions have made it nearly impossible for the grieving to gather with others as they mourn. This last act of love has become quieter and done in private.
Mary Magdalene discovering the empty tomb in chapter 20.
She and the disciples present must have been fearful, confused, shocked, panicked and anxious when discovering that Jesus’s body was gone. This unpredictable turn in events could have felt like too much to handle on top of what they had witnessed just a couple of days prior.
The angels who appeared to Mary at the empty tomb in chapter 20.
They asked her why she was crying. Can you imagine her knee-jerk reaction to that question? It’s similar to when Jesus asked his disciples on the boat, being thrown about the water, “Why are you afraid?” Mary had been through an emotional rollercoaster over the last few days. I can then imagine her being overcome with emotion when thinking perhaps the worst ending to an unthinkable loss; “Had his body been stolen from the tomb? Haven’t we suffered enough?’ But here, the angels are in a way telling her not to be afraid, just as Jesus had told his friends in the middle of the storm.
Jesus comes to Mary in the garden.
At first she must have felt so alone and confused. The solitude may have felt like a burden. She may have felt afraid. Life had changed so quickly. Bad news was met with more bad news. When Jesus calls out to her and she realizes he is with her in the garden, she cried out to him and it is implied that she threw her arms around him. Being in his presence was joyful and comforting.
On the evening of that first Easter, Jesus went to his disciples.
“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” John 20:19-22
This Easter, we’ll be inside our homes, missing our loved ones and our traditions. We’ll be inside our homes on Sunday morning, not in our churches, for fear of the virus. But Jesus says, “Peace be with you!” The locked doors didn’t keep him out. He still came in. He was there in the midst of their grief and worry.
In John 16:32-33, before being arrested, Jesus told his disciples,
“But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone, Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
This Easter, we too will be scattered, each to our own homes. As we prepare to spend Easter apart from our families, without grandparents and matriarchs, and while feasting feels lonely and unfamiliar, let us set a place for Jesus. When it doesn’t feel like Easter without going to church- remember that Jesus meets us wherever we are. He isn’t any less present in our homes than he is at church so let’s welcome him to the table.
Many of us are approaching Easter while grieving but don’t forget that this week that we refer to as Holy week, was a hard week for Jesus too. This week, was also hard for his followers, his friends and his family. They weren’t celebrating at first. They were sad. They were grieving. They were confused and afraid. They looked on as their beloved was tortured and killed and they couldn’t do a thing about it. I can’t help but sit and imagine the grief that even Jesus must have felt as he was suffering that painful death or the grief he felt leading up to that day. Perhaps he was feeling the same grief he felt when riding into Jerusalem just days before. But the story didn’t end there. Through all the grief and suffering of the cross, Jesus brought hope and new life for all who follow him, this he knew all along.
In a way, his suffering made his sacrifice more meaningful, that he would choose to endure such horrible pain and death to save us. As children, we often don’t realize our parents’ sacrifices until we’re grown. Until we have suffered awhile and gone through hardship ourselves. One must be broken and torn enough to understand those sacrifices made for them. What if we are getting a taste of suffering and real brokenness so that we might be drawn in closer to the one who gave it all away? What if we just weren’t getting it? What if we’ve been given so many chances and instead of turning to Him, we’ve turned in towards ourselves? What if we were living too much for our own pleasures and not enough for Jesus? What if we needed to bleed out in order to fully receive his blood in us? What if we needed to die to the world to fully receive Christ?
As much as we may love our traditions and being with extended family on Easter, let us remember what truly matters. It’s not the easter baskets. It’s not the bunny. It’s not the spiral ham. It’s about his sacrifice and his gift- a gift that makes new and perfect all that this broken world takes from us. It’s about God’s only Son dying and raising from the dead. It’s about Jesus hanging on a cross for you, no matter the cost. This Easter, do you love Jesus, no matter the cost? Do you love him boldly and on display, the way he laid it all down for you?
As our hearts are both heavy and full, as we weep tears of sadness and joy and as we receive both grief and gratitude in the same cup, let us feel his peace surround us. Let us remember that in losing what we want or what we thought would have been, we have already received the greatest gift of all- eternal life. It’s as if the loss of life as we knew it, has given us the opportunity to see more clearly. The way I see it, having our eyes opened, and that we might see clearly what is truly important, in the year 2020, is no coincidence.
So, in the midst of pain, confusion, grief and anxiety, with all of the distractions and comforts removed in our lives, let us notice the blessings in disguise, with our eyes wide-opened and fixed on the one who saves. This Easter, let us just fully receive Christ and in receiving him, may we be overcome by his perfect peace.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall no perish but have eternal life. For For did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict; Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” John 3:16-21