Every year Catholics commemorate Jesus’ death and resurrection in worship. On Holy Thursday we remember the Last Supper and the gift Jesus gave to us in the Holy Eucharist. The Good Friday liturgy recalls his arrest, crucifixion and death, and the Vigil and Easter Sunday liturgies celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. Personally, we may feel a bit removed from the actual events of Holy Week because we are participating in them liturgically (in worship), and not historically. However, our own personal experiences may help us understand what the people with Jesus were going through as they witnessed these events.
This became very apparent to me a few months ago when my mother died. She had been on a ventilator for almost a year, so I knew that most likely she would not live much longer. However, her death was unexpected because she showed no signs of dying. Nothing could have prepared me for the physical, spiritual, emotional upheaval that I began to experience. And as people tried to console me with lines such as, “Your mom is in a better place now” or “Your mom isn’t suffering anymore,” all I felt was, “I have no clue where my mom is right now, and I don’t have any assurance that she is not suffering anymore.” All I knew was that she was gone. Sound like “doubting Thomas”?
When I had gained enough distance from her death to begin to make sense of what I was experiencing, the first biblical paradigm that came to my mind was the disciples on the road to Emmaus. My faith, like that of those two disciples, had been shattered by my mother’s death, and I desperately needed to “reread Scripture” in light of what I had experienced. Then I began to realize that I could relate to other people in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ death as well.
Take the women in the story of Jesus’ resurrection, for example. As soon as they can, they are carrying spices to the tomb to embalm Jesus. They have to “do something” to numb the pain. In the days that followed my mom’s death, I, like those women, threw myself into the preparations for her funeral: flowers; liturgy; contacting relatives and family friends; finding the perfect dress for her; putting together photos; etc. It was one way that I could still be close to my mom, that I could still “do” something for her. At least her body was still with us, and while we still had that, her death was still a bit unreal — almost like a dream I was living.
Then there was the upset stomach. I never have stomach problems. But every night for a week I was up during the night with an upset stomach. I’m positive that Mary Magdalene suffered physically as well from the emotional pain that she carried after seeing the man who had cured her being tortured to death.
We can’t forget the disciples who lock themselves behind closed doors out of fear. So often we judge them harshly for this lack of courage. I can now understand why they locked those doors. The fear that I began to feel a few months after my mom’s death was incredibly strong. My first reaction was to lock myself down — keep the fear down inside because it was so powerful. If I did that I wouldn’t have to face the fear. But thank goodness for a really good friend; I was able to let the fear express itself and figure out where it was coming from and what the fear was.
So this year, the Easter Triduum will be entirely new as I bring my personal experience with me. The people featured in the events I will be participating in liturgically — Jesus’ disciples, Mary Magdalene, and others — have become companions on my journey of faith. They are the ones who offered me the consolation that I needed, because I realized that my reactions in the face of death are common even to giants in the faith. And just as Jesus embraced their reactions and provided healing for them, so he will with me.