Eucharist in the Time of Corona
By Fr. Roger Keeler
Each year the familiar stories and their liturgical rhythm:
Palm Sunday: elated Hosanna’s before distress in disbelief at what follows.
Holy Thursday: contented satisfaction in celebrating the most anticipated – and familiar – feast of the year, yet marked with inexplicable words and actions.
Good Friday: fleeing in betrayal, incomprehensible torment, agony, aloneness. Death.
Easter Sunday: the dawning sun and a return of the Risen Son. Exhilaration! Hope! Life!
Now, consider last year’s headlines from CBS News for March 28:
- CDC issues travel advisory for NY, NJ and CT
- California prepares for looming surge in coronavirus cases
- U.N. donates 250,000 masks to New York City
- Infant dies of coronavirus in Illinois, health department says
- Florida governor announces checkpoints to stop people from N.Y. from entering
- 728 people have died in New York
- Maryland State Park beaches close
- Rats swarm New Orleans’ streets
- Michigan receives thousands of N95 masks from national stockpile
- Trump to see off Navy hospital ship headed to New York
- COVID-19 cases top 600,000 worldwide
It was as if all the events of Holy Week confronted us from the time we gathered to celebrate Christmas and New Years with family and friends in 2019. How could our elation and contented satisfaction ever have anticipated what followed? Yet, we knew early in January that something ominous was on the horizon. But it couldn’t happen here! We were isolated and safe – far removed from distant places on the planet. Besides, we were told this isn’t anything worse than a common cold or the flu. But it was. Soon the harsh reality of Good Friday dawned upon us in our solitary confinement as we watched the evening news and answered the phone calls telling us that another relative, friend or co-worker had succumbed to the virus. The morgues were full. Funerals delayed. We seemed to be in a suspended state of Holy Saturday, looking back to the elation of Palm Sunday, living through the feast of Holy Thursday yet not comprehending its significance, and feeling the agony of Good Friday.
And today? Infection and death rates are declining. Vaccination rates are increasing. Restrictions are easing. We dream for a return to “normal.”
But do you see? There will never be a return to “normal.” This is the paschal journey of Jesus: from old to new; from familiar to adventure; from despair to joy; from “me” to “we”; from death to life. It will never be the same. The virus has shifted the course of the human trajectory. There will never be a return to “normal,” only the Eternal New in the confidence of paschal Resurrection.
No, we have not yet arrived at the fullness of Easter. That is yet to be. Yet, we have seen it! We have touched it! It has touched us! Emmanuel – the Lord of Hosts is with us! In Word, in community, in Eucharist. We rejoice and are glad!