The last time I fully celebrated Easter the way it is intended to be celebrated was back in 2018. 2020 and 2021 were celebrated but not the way I needed to celebrate due to Pandemic restrictions. 2019 I did not celebrate at all. It started on the 15th of February: when preparing for a funeral, I slipped and fell on the church step and I ruptured my left quad tendon. My worst fears came true—surgery and having to get people to look after me. These two things are a bitter pill to swallow when you’re a priest who is independent and stubborn and wants things done “the right way.” One can only imagine the thoughts and emotions I felt on 18 February, 2019 when I was told by an orthopaedic surgeon that I was in need of surgery and I would be out for over 6 weeks. To make matters worse, the surgery could not be done due to factors beyond anyone’s control. So, when did the surgery take place? Wednesday, 6 March, 2019: Ash Wednesday. As most people were marked with the sign of ashes on their foreheads, I was marked that morning with a scalpel, drill. Two holes were drilled in my knee cap, and the medical equivalent of fishing line was used to tie the ruptured tendon into my knee cap. The I was sutured right up the middle, with the “fishing line.” Marked with the sign of faith alright: 32 staples.
Being in hospital, Sundays were my worst days. I wanted to be at the altar—it was where I was needed. I was not “sick.” Yet with a kline splint and no weight to be applied to my left leg, and no bending whatsoever, I could not be at the altar. I was out for Easter. Yet over the years, when asked what did I want to give up for Lent, I would jokingly say that I would like to give up church for Lent. I gave up Church for Lent alright, but not because I wanted to, and not as a Lenten discipline.
As the weeks of being in hospital went along, I feared how I would feel at Easter, especially on Easter Day. As one former parishioner said to me: “I have never seen someone love Easter like you do.” I love Easter. For me Easter is what it is all about. I could feel the depression sinking in. Knowing the day was coming when I should be standing and proclaiming my Alleluias, I was feeling anything but joyful. I was mad, angry, upset, and many other words that could be used. I was mad at myself and I was mad at God, and I was mad at anyone who annoyed me. After all there are only so many times in which a person can hear those words: “how are you?” and not want to scream.
To make matters worse, the Friday before Palm Sunday, at 8:10 am, my mother called my hospital room to inform me that just minutes before calling me, my sister had died. So here I was in the hospital in Channel-Port aux Basques, my sister had died at Western Regional Memorial Hospital in Corner Brook, my brother was living in Markham, Ontario, and my mom was in Conception Bay South; I could not do what I felt I was called to do and to be at that time. To say the least, it was a “Good Friday Moment.” It was a Good Friday moment, and the darkness of Saturday was heavy, it was very dark and; it was very real. My sister was buried on the day after Palm Sunday. Easter Day came but it was no Easter for me. It was dark, it was sad, it was depressing. My hospital room that day was the upper room where fearful disciples were locked in. In my upper room that day, I did not eat a thing, I did not want to see anyone. I did not want to even be washed and wear a clean johnny coat. It was not a good place to be and; that is an understatement.
I returned to work in September 2019 going through the motions of things as I went back to work. It goes without saying that the person I was prior to injury and the person who returned back to parish duties was not the same person. Once we experience things, we change and we cannot go back, we live a “new normal.” As we approached Lent 2020 I was fearful, because Easter was falling on what was going to be the first anniversary of my sister’s death. God and I had a lot of arguing over that one. I was longing for the joy I had in Easter 2018. After the celebration of Ash Wednesday, and after attending a well needed retreat with my fellow priests and deacons, I felt ready for Easter. I needed Easter. Then the pandemic struck. It is often said that things happen for reasons, and as the hymn writer William Cowper wrote in 1777: “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.” Easter 2019, prepared me for Easter 2020. I prepared for an online worship service. I did it and after doing it, I sat in my living room and I cried. I thought I was going to have my Easter moment but I did not. But I did have the Easter moment I needed. The Easter Gospel for that year was from St. Matthew’s Gospel: the angel comes down and causes an earthquake. German Monk Anselm Grün, writes that when life is full of darkness and depression, the angel causing the earthquake wants to awaken our trust that the state of the grave does not remain permanent for adults and children. I realized when I proclaimed to an online congregation that the angel has come and caused to earthquake, I came to the realization of what it means to profess week after week my belief and my hope in the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.
As I came to that realization, words came back to me that had been spoken by my bishop in his attempt to give pastoral care to me. He said: “Jeffrey, you will see your sister again,” and as that came flooding back, Easter meant something more, but not the way I would have liked. The way I would have liked to have felt the Easter joy was to stand at the altar and celebrate the sacred mysteries. Easter meant that in the darkest of times, there is light and it is just around the corner and it will be bright. At the time when my bishop said that to me, I said back to him: “I know, but I do not know what I will do first, hug her or slap her.” More than likely when that day of resurrection comes, I will probably do both.
I need Easter.
I need Easter this year to be like Easter prior to 2019, so that those 10 simple words of “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again,” that each and everyone of us can share in can be for me, and for those with whom I now live and work, words which will be words of praise. This year as we look with St. Luke at the empty tomb, we can ask ourselves: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
I look not for the living among the dead; I look for the living among the living. Looking for the living among the living is the reason why this year, more than ever before, I need Easter.