O God, whose parental care reaches to the ends of the earth: We humbly ask you graciously to behold and bless those we love, now absent from us. Defend them from all dangers of soul and body; and grant that both they and we, drawing nearer to you, may be bound together by your love in the communion of your Holy Spirit, and in the fellowship of your saints; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(“A Prayer for the Absent,” adapted from the Book of Common Prayer, p. 830).
Our love for the absent often extends past the timelines created to process our grief. In a season of social isolation, in a time of trauma, sickness and death, we may feel the solemnity and sacrifice that mark the season of Lent leak into Holy Week and Easter. The three days that pass between Good Friday and Easter Sunday might not be enough to hold our fear, confusion, anger and grief. News of the resurrection may not elicit joy. This year, as in years past and years to come, our lives may not be in sync with ecclesiastical cycles of death, mourning, renewal and joy.
And we are not alone. Even in the Easter story, Jesus’ followers struggled to transition from mourning Jesus’ death to rejoicing in the news of Jesus’ resurrection. Because Jesus and his disciples were Jewish, when Jesus died, his loved ones began engaging in Jewish ritual practices of mourning. After he secured Jesus’ body, Nicodemus acquired linen, salve and spices to dress the corpse — the Gospel according to John tells us that this practice was in accordance with Jewish burial and mourning customs in the region (John 19:39-40). And early in the morning, Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Salome made their way to Jesus’ resting place to continue to ritually prepare Jesus’ body with incense (Mark 16:1). When Mary and her companions found Jesus’ tomb empty and learned that Jesus had been raised from the dead, their joy at the news of the resurrection was not unadulterated — the women were filled with joy, but they were also afraid (Matthew 28:8).
For the disciples, the three days that passed between the crucifixion and the resurrection were not sufficient to hold their grief. As the women returned to tell the disciples of what they had encountered, they found the men weeping and mourning (Mark 16:10). Jesus’ death was still fresh, the disciple’s grief was still palpable. When the disciples heard the women’s revelations, they were unable to comprehend what the women had experienced (Luke 24:11). Even Jesus’ disciples needed time to process the news of Jesus’ resurrection, to gather evidence that Jesus had been raised from the dead (John 20:8, John 20:20, John 20:24-29), to transition from a season of mourning into a season of renewal and joy.
If you are approaching Easter in a season of mourning, you are in good company. The three days between Good Friday and Easter Sunday might not be enough to process your fear, confusion, anger or grief — and that’s OK. It wasn’t enough time for the disciples either.
Just as the disciples needed time to process their grief, so too can we take time to transition from a theology of the crucifixion to a theology of the resurrection, from a season of mourning to a season of joy. Our ecclesiastical seasons are signposts for remembering the life and death of Christ, not timelines for processing our trauma and grief. Undoubtedly, the resurrection transforms the crucifixion, but it does not erase or replace it. God still lost a child. Jesus still suffered. The disciples still wept.
When I lost my father, mother and three siblings, my grief extended years past ritual timelines. A week, a month, a year, 10 years, was not enough time to grieve. As so many know, our love for the absent never really goes away. Ever.
But when I released myself from the external pressure of constructed timelines, from priests’ advice to abandon a theology of the crucifixion for a theology of the resurrection, I found myself able to more deeply and authentically experience the divine working in my life. In the depths of my grief, I found unimaginable comfort in Emmanuel, a God who suffers with us: I wept with Jesus, mourned with the disciples, sought solace in God. Discovered for the first time, Peace.
And when that long season of mourning passed, the tomb was still empty. Jesus was still risen. The language of the resurrection no longer brought about all-consuming waves of confusion, anger, and grief because I no longer felt pressured to adopt someone else’s interpretation of Easter. As I emerged from that period of mourning, I found in the resurrection the hope that life can hold both palpable grief and profound joy.
If you are entering Easter in a season of mourning, I hope you know that God meets us where we are, whether we are at the foot of the cross or the mouth of the empty tomb. God’s love for us extends from our deepest depths to our highest heights — no trauma, no death, no grief can separate us from the love of a God who suffers with us. God grants us the time to process, unpack and heal from our pain — and promises to abide with us as we emerge from our seasons of sorrow.
JoMarie Grinkiewicz is a member of Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Avon Park. If you are interested in registering, please contact JoMarie at firstname.lastname@example.org.