Living the Triduum in a Pandemic and beyond. A post by Dr Sue Price.
A few years ago, I delivered a paper at a Conference on Suffering and Diminishment. This paper was subsequently published in Pastoral Review (May/June2019) entitled: Living Good Friday, moving into Easter Saturday, but can Easter Sunday be real? I was exploring my experiences of working in a children’s hospice, looking at the grieving process of all those concerned. I saw a connection between the movements within bereavement and the movements of the Triduum. This connection between what we experience in real life and what we go through within a liturgical context for Easter has come to the fore again for me as we endure all that is being asked of us as we continue the difficult and painful journey of living in a pandemic.
The vaccine and continuing practice of social distancing, handwashing and not touching begin to give us a glimmer of life beyond COVID. However, there is also sense that we will be emerging into a different and changed world. It is perhaps no surprise that holiday bookings for July onwards have soared as the country clamours for something that is normal and usual practice. But we need to face the reality that our world has changed and that it cannot and must not be the same again. I suggest that we need to find a way to deal with the longing for ‘going back to normal’, realising that we need the courage to know that we cannot go back to the old normal. Instead, we need to find new ways of being in the world. New ways that really do live out the ideal that no-one is safe until everyone is safe – not only safe from COVID, but safe from poverty, war, inequality, fear, hunger and the other ills that have become exposed during the past 18 months.
The Gospel accounts of the death and resurrection of Christ and the subsequent founding of the church reflect all that is currently going on. I suggest too, that they point to a way forward as we work towards a new normal. I think the world has been living Good Friday. We have been living with fear, with the injustice of the trials brought about by COVID, the cruelty and death that this virus has caused. We continue to live with all of that, there is a sense of a collective depression, aroused perhaps by the relentlessness and sense that this will never end – which is all there in the Gospel accounts of Good Friday. There is too, in the same way as in the gospels, the glimmers of hope. In the same way Jesus was helped to carry his cross, the tireless work of doctors, nurses, scientists, carers, delivery drivers, shop assistants, teachers, children and parents have shouldered some of the burden and eased it for us all.
Now, we are arriving at the exhaustion of Holy Saturday. The vaccine roll out is happening, it feels as if there is a chance of the virus becoming contained and manageable. Everything that can be done has been put into place. Now we have to wait in the emptiness and nothingness that seems to sum up Holy Saturday. It is waiting to see if all that has been put into place will be enough. Just as keeping the Sabbath was an enforced day of inaction, these next weeks of gradually easing out of lockdown make us stop and slow down, no matter how fast we want it to be all over.
There is an expectation though, that once lockdown is lifted, we will be ‘back to normal’. Anyone who has gone through a bereavement process learns that the old normal doesn’t exist any longer, and there is a slow process in learning and adapting to the ‘new normal’. It takes time, patience, and healing for that to evolve. The women who went to the tomb that first Easter Sunday went there in grief, to begin the process of adapting to their new normal, without Christ. Their intention of using ritual actions to anoint the body, to spend time at the tomb was part of the grieving process. It is all to easy for us, reading the accounts on Easter Sunday to leap to the supposed joy of that first Easter Morning. However, I think it is worth realising the shock, fright and terror of seeing the empty tomb. The first thought might have been anger, thinking that grave robbers had stolen Christ away. There must have been bewilderment and confusion as yet another seemingly horrible thing appeared to have happened. It is worth noticing the energy that gets spent – there is so much running as everyone tries to work out and come to terms with what had happened. And when it finally dawns that Christ is risen, that in itself is painful for there is the command ‘don’t touch me’. That is so painful and so relevant for us today – for ‘don’t touch’ is likely to be with us for a long time as we emerge into a post-COVID world.
I am not convinced the days immediately after the resurrection were joyful. They were confusing, bewildering, uncertain. There was upset as everyone except Thomas had seen Christ – was that fair? There were gatherings together and that too must have been confusing – would He or would He not suddenly appear? What would happen this time? No wonder a group of them decided to go back to what had been their normal, to go back to fishing. But maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that the fishing trip wasn’t an initial success. They couldn’t go back to how things had been, they had to re-learn, fish in a different way, as instructed by Christ.
Those immediate post-resurrection days were perhaps a slow time of adjusting. There are common features of gathering together, being together, eating together, praying together. It wasn’t a time of ‘doing’. It was a time of preparation and of final farewells to an old way of life, that included the ascension and continued on until suddenly, at Pentecost, filled with the Holy Spirit, they knew what to do and could move into action.
In the same way, we need to be ready to do the same. There is a longing within the Church for us to be able to go back to having everything how it was. There seems to be an anxiety centred round lack of money as regular collections have not been possible. That is understandable, but to be honest, if that becomes the dominant concern then that will be very worrying for it will suggest that the opportunity to embrace a different normal could become lost. It cannot be the same, we have to find ways of living post COVID that tackles the serious issues that have been raised that effect the world, the Church and each of us personally. We have been given a chance to really tackle poverty, inequality, injustice so that we can we become a good and better Church that is truly inclusive. We are being given an opportunity to be re-created, as Pope Francis has repeatedly asked us to do, a properly poor Church, flinging wide the doors so that all are welcome. And the gospels show us how to do it: gather together, pray together, eat together, wait together, listening, observing, noticing the movements of God at work. Post-lockdown, just as post-resurrection, can become a time of preparation ready for Pentecost, when the Spirit of God takes over and the world becomes renewed, re-created, re-born.
Price, S. 2019 Living Good Friday, moving into Holy Saturday, but can Easter Sunday be real? In: Pastoral Review May/June 2019 Vol 15:3