When it’s hard to sing “Alleluia!” at Easter

Sometimes it is hard to celebrate when the occasion calls for it. Six years ago, my mother-in-law passed away suddenly and tragically just a few days before the Lunar New Year. While the world around us kicked into high gear for feasting and celebration, our family was numb from shock as we dazedly went about making wake and funeral arrangements. We were blessed to have friends who mourned with us, who stayed with us, and who made space for us to grieve. I remember how surreal it had seemed to me to have our private world so suddenly and irrevocably altered even as the world continued to turn and life went on. There were no celebrations for our family that Lunar New Year even as my mother-in-law’s absence was all the more keenly felt during the season. We had a quiet and private Lunar New Year instead, letting tears fall freely as the numbness of shock receded and pain exploded in our hearts. 

Early this Easter Sunday morning I read a message that had come in while I slept. It was an update from a dear and old friend which made it impossible for me to go back to sleep. She had shared that this had been the worst Holy Week ever:  she was grieving with two close friends who had lost a parent and a child respectively that week even as she herself has a family member who is gravely ill.  I stared at my bedroom ceiling in the dark as I thought of her, her friends, and the other friends and loved ones I had come to know was suffering different crises during this year’s Holy Week. For some, there was physical suffering of sudden illness and/or death, for others, there was emotional and spiritual suffering of family and personal breakdowns, and for some it was a combination. It was Easter morning, yet I could not find it in my heart to sing “Alleluia!” or to reply the messages that had started streaming in wishing “Happy Easter!”

The sun was not yet up when I decided to get dressed and go for a walk with the Lord. My heart was too heavy for words, but the Lord knew what I could not articulate and He ministered to me. He spoke to me and showed me that the greatest evil was not physical death but inability to give and receive love. “Wherever there is love, Ann, there is always hope.” I realised it was true – for what causes us the greatest suffering is our inability to believe in a good and loving God when we are in the face of evil we cannot understand.  But when we do believe, we find that we are held by grace undeniable even when we are in the depth of unspeakable sorrow.

The triumph of Easter is not just over physical death, but – even more essentially – over the death of our soul. There is a death worse than bodily death just as there is a life more valuable and precious than physical life. All of us, even while physically alive, are dying from unforgiveness, bitterness, hopelessness, loneliness… We are dying from the sins and dysfunctions that riddle our relationships and from the wounds we know nothing about but which define the way we relate to one another. THAT is the death that Christ definitively defeated on the Cross – the death that separates us from knowing the unconditional love and limitless mercy of God. And the truth is that we are all still in the process of coming more fully into the salvation that Christ has won for us. That is the distinction and the tension between subjective and objective redemption. 

My walk with the Lord comforted me immensely even though I found my heart still heavy. And I realised that Christ was not asking me to give up this burden entirely. “Why don’t you carry this sorrow as an act of love and solidarity for your friends?”  So I did, and continue to do so. I carry the burden, but there was a brief period when all that sorrow was lifted entirely and that was when we sung the Gloria at Easter mass. As the peals of the bells sounded and the People of God broke into song, I found myself tearing at how beautiful it was to hear the Gloria after its absence throughout Lent and I sang with a joy I knew was not my own. 

“Not my own.” That is the key, isn’t it? The joy of Easter is not my own – it is richer, deeper, wider, and more powerful than any one person’s joy. It is a reservoir that is always present even when our private lives dip us into the Pool of Sorrows which, in the mystery of faith, is the very same pool as the reservoir of joy. So it does not matter whether we grieve or rejoice, for we do both with the Risen Lord, and that is all that matters. 

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