Something strange is happening. Every Holy Saturday, the second reading of the Office of Readings found the Liturgy of the Hours begins with these words taken from an ancient homily. This reflection offers the Church a mystically powerful meditation of Christ’s descent into Hell, where he rescues those who have died prior to his Resurrection. The homily says, the Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. Jesus then says to them, I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.
These days have been unique for us all to say the least. The majority of civilization is hunkering down in their homes. Some of our family members and friends are being treated for COVID-19, and others are fighting for their lives in hospitals. Our restaurants and stores are closed. The Long Island Expressway is empty. There is no public celebration of the Sunday Mass or the Sacraments. Some of us are bored, while others are lonely. Some of us are calm, and others are afraid. Perhaps, we can all agree that we feel (at least a little) lost and uncertain as to what is to come. We keep asking, “When will life be back to normal?”
Yes, something strange is happening – something that most of us have never experienced before; something that most of us will never experience again, please God. Imagine, though, the strangeness of that first Holy Saturday. I think we can imagine it well given the circumstances we find ourselves in today. Being ‘socially distant’ from our family and our friends, our world and our Church, and even feeling distant from God now without Mass on Sunday, we can almost feel the isolation and the strange silence of the world that those first disciples felt after their Lord had been crucified and laid in the tomb. They must have been afraid and confused, just as many of us are today.
Although we are going through this strange experience, we can rest assured knowing that the Lord never abandons his Church. He continues to walk with us amidst the strangeness. Just as he approached those who were in the darkness of Hell, Christ, who is the light in our darkness, holds out his cross to us, showing us that he has won the victory, showing us that light tramples the darkness, showing us that the strangeness and the pain that we are all experiencing now is not the end of the story.
The potent imagery offered in this ancient homily is so applicable to our experiences these days. Christ visited these figures in their darkness, and today, he visits us in our darkness. He sees our pain, he sees our struggles, he sees our loneliness, he sees our fear, and he holds out his cross to us and says, “Rise! Persevere! Everything will be ok. The pain of the cross is never the end of the Christian story. You’re going to suffer for a bit, but you’ll get through this, because even in your suffering, I am giving you life.”
While none of us could have expected the drastic effects that COVID-19 has reaped onto the world, God is using this unexpected moment in history as an opportunity to pour forth unexpected graces onto his Church. In other words, this experience, even though it is stretching us in different ways, is a time where the Lord is giving us new life, placing a deeper desire in our hearts to know him, to love him, and to serve him in every capacity of our being. I am certain of one thing: when this is all over, the Church will experience a new Pentecost. By yearning to share in the Eucharist together once again, the Holy Spirit is enkindling a blazing fire within our hearts by which we will have no other option but to share with the world.
So, yes, something strange is happening. But soon, something even stranger will happen, as the Church sets the world on fire for Jesus Christ who has conquered all of the darkness.