Alleluia Anyway - On Celebrating Easter in a Time of Sorrow
There was a time when, for me, Easter was an experience of overwhelming joy. A time when I assisted with RCIA and cried as I watched dear friends being baptized and confirmed every year at the Easter Vigil. A time when I gathered with beloved friends and a gaggle of enthusiastic children for jubilant eggs hunts. A time when life seemed less complicated.
For various reasons, life has been pretty heavy for the last few years, and nothing feels quite as sparkly as it once did. I have gotten used to feeling a bit out of place in the simple joy of certain Christian celebrations, always carrying an awareness of the sorrow that is often glossed over when we’re supposed to be rejoicing.
So, this year, it was an interesting experience to hear so many Easter reflections acknowledge the ongoing suffering that is not simply erased by the reality of the Resurrection. Every Christian writer and speaker seemed to be sharing thoughts about what it means to sincerely celebrate Easter in a time of great uncertainty and pain. My social media feed was full of honest posts about how hard things have been, followed by the determinedly hopeful phrase, “Alleluia Anyway.” Even Pope Francis spoke about this theme on Easter Sunday, recognizing that “for many, this is an Easter of solitude lived amid the sorrow and hardship that the pandemic is causing;" he went on to affirm that the resurrection of Christ is “a victory that does not ‘by-pass’ suffering and death, but passes through them, opening a path in the abyss.”
Speaking with friends who have been impacted by sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, I know they are familiar with this heaviness of heart that can haunt even the brightest days. Those who have kept their Christian faith still carry a sorrow that does not simply disappear because they believe in the Resurrection. One wise friend told me about her newfound devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows; for both of us, there is some comfort in knowing that Mother Mary remembered the sorrow of her son’s Crucifixion even while rejoicing in his Resurrection.
Of course, joy and sorrow have always lived together in every human heart. But for me, this Easter feels like the the first time the whole Church is acknowledging this reality in such a universal way.
In the discussion groups I facilitate through Awake Milwaukee, we spend the final session focusing on the theme of hope. We read the Scripture story of the Resurrection from the end of Luke’s Gospel. In this narrative, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James come to the tomb of Jesus. planning to anoint his body. Instead, they find the stone rolled away and encounter angels who tell them that Jesus has been raised. It’s a beautiful story, with many details worth noting. But my favorite verse comes at the end: the women run back to the apostles to share what they have seen, but we read that “their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11).
I love to use this story as an exploration of Christian hope, because it doesn’t present a simple, tidy package of triumph. There is certainly joy in this narrative, but there is also confusion, uncertainty, and disbelief. This Easter story feels true on a deep level, because we all know that words of hope often sound like nonsense in times of darkness. Resurrection does not always come as a sudden blinding light; "sometimes," in the words of author Megan Hjelmstad, “our resurrection comes slowly, like the dawn.”
Relatively speaking, things are easy for my little family right now. We have a safe home, a healthy family, and a stable income. We have much to be grateful for.
Of course, that doesn’t mean this time doesn’t feel hard. Quarantining with moody teenagers while downsizing to prepare for a move brings plenty of challenges. Besides, for many people - myself included - the pain of this particular moment is added on top of other chronic pains in our relationships, bodies, and spirits.
To be honest, I cried a lot on Easter Sunday - for the worldwide suffering caused by this pandemic, but also for all the brokenness in our world and in our Church.
I’m sure I was not the only one. It’s a difficult time for all of us, in so many ways.
But deep in my bones, I believe in a God of Resurrection, a God who is constantly bringing life out of death in new and unexpected ways, a God who walks with us through every joy and every sorrow.
So, during this Easter octave, even when hope seems like nonsense, I look to my Savior and continue to proclaim -
I hope you can join me.
Christ is Risen, Alleluia.
He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia.