Easter Vigil 2020, Loyola House of Studies
Matthew in our Gospel tonight seems to suggest a sort of Ignatian repetition. He communicates the same message first through the angel of the Lord, and then through the person of the Risen Christ. Like a good son of Ignatius, I chose to focus on this repetitio and its two-fold message: “Do not be afraid. Tell the disciples to go to Galilee.” We celebrate this most sacred and blessed night of our Lord’s passing over from death to life, strangely and paradoxically, when sickness and death cast a dark shadow in our hearts. At this time of COVID what can we glean from the Lord’s words to not be afraid and to go to our Galilee?
A great earthquake and the appearance of the angel of the Lord resulted in great fear for the guards and the women at the empty tomb. But this shared experience of fear led to different reactions. The guards were “shaken with fear and became like dead men.” Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, instead of being paralyzed by fear, ran! Though fearful, they were also overjoyed, and so they ran to announce the Good News to the disciples.
There is nothing that can overcome us, render us helpless, as much as fear could. The past weeks have been scary for me. There are so many things to fear about this virus and many times I have found myself like the guards at the tomb: paralyzed and helpless. The ultimate fear, of course, is how COVID-19 can cause death for us or those dear to us. What is more terrifying, however, is not only that it can kill but how one dies of the virus—alone, without family or friends to console them, being cared for by someone whose face the dying could not even see clearly. My own friends have shared about the agony of losing their loved ones in this way. They sing the same sad refrain: “Hindi ko man lang nahawakan ang kamay niya. Hindi man lang ako nakapagpaalam.” If those left behind suffer so much, I couldn’t imagine how much worse it is for their loved ones on their death beds who cannot even be consoled in their dying moments.
On this most sacred and blessed night, amidst the constant fear of a lonesome and lonely death, the Risen Lord’s message is clear: “Do not be afraid.” He could confidently tell us that because Jesus himself was afraid. He might not have died of a virus, but he did not hide his anguish when he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In telling us not to be afraid, Jesus must be saying, “I know these times are scary, I know that you have no idea when this scourge of a virus would end, I know that the prospect of death is real, so it’s ok to be afraid, but do not stay in your fear.” Tonight, we celebrate Christ’s staring death straight in the face, and winning. The Resurrection tells us that our fear must not remain as fear; it must be transformed into faith—faith in a God who promises not only that he will get us through all this somehow, but faith in a God who will also transform the collective pain and death and fear caused by this pandemic into new life for those who pass away, for us who have to pick up the pieces of our fractured world, and for all of his creation.
The Word of God tonight does not only aim to console, however, for it also challenges: “Go to Galilee, where you will see me.” Prior to entering, some friends from CLC and I started a weekend retreat called “Return to Galilee”. It was for young professionals who had grown weary in their career or commitments and needed a chance to look back at the time they were called by the Lord, and to be energized by this remembering to continue in their chosen vocation. I had always seen the disciples’ return to Galilee as a reunion where, distraught and depressed, they could try to make some sense of all that had happened—Christ’s gruesome death, their failings as disciple and friend, their own shattered dreams—by going back to their memories with Jesus: when they were first called, moments of joy and wonder, encounters of deep friendship with their Master. Galilee was a familiar place, their comfort zone, a place where they thought they had figured out Christ and what he was calling them to do and who they were meant to be.
True enough, they found what they were looking for—and more—in Galilee. However, it was not merely an exercise of nostalgic remembrance or even relishing to find meaning in an event in the past. In Galilee the Risen Christ gave a totally new meaning to their entire vocation in commissioning them to go and make disciples of all nations, to baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, to teach them all that he himself had commanded, and to assure them that he will be with them till the end of the age. In Galilee the disciples encountered their transformed Master, the Risen Christ, and in doing so, not only their self-understanding but their very own mission was transformed. Not only were they called back to do what they had always done—what they were good at in the familiar surroundings of Galilee—but from the familiar they were called to go to the farthest reaches of the world and be Christ’s presence there!
Could we see in our COVID-19-ed world of today our own Galilee where the Lord is asking us to recalibrate, reimagine, re-envision our mission? As a Church, do we have the audacity to discern a renewed and transformed mission even as we are just trying to survive and get through all this? As witnesses to God’s love and justice, how do we now feed the poor, shelter the homeless, and bury the dead, when we cannot even step out of our homes to be physically present to them? As teachers of the Word how do we preach to a people hungry for the Good News, yet disconnected from us because of limited bandwidth and other technological limitations? As ministers of the Sacrament how do we bring the Body and Blood of Christ to console the sick and the rest of the faithful when doing so would mean risking not only our lives, but our own families and communities, and all the other ‘nations’ we minister to? To celebrate Easter in the time of COVID consoles us in transforming our fear into faith, but it also challenges us to allow the Risen Christ to renew our mission, to be wildly imaginative in our ministries, and to constantly and prayerfully discern where the Spirit leads.
On this most sacred and blessed night we celebrate the Risen Christ on whom we pin all our hopes—our hopes for our own resurrection, the transformation of our fear into faith, and the renewal of our mission to go to the ends of our ailing world and be Christ’s healing presence. Amen.