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Embrace Easter in your heart

Scott Boyle | Wednesday, April 3, 2013

I held new life in my arms on more than one occasion this past Easter weekend. In one instance, I held a small, three-month-old baby just beginning her journey on Earth. In another moment, I held Wei, my much bigger godson, as he was washed in the waters of Baptism and new life at the Easter Vigil.
Over the course of my time at Notre Dame, I have seen many different instances of “holding.” Scenes of crisp, autumnal South Bend football Saturdays first flash into my mind. Over and over again, despite achy shoulders and bad backs, parents happily hold their children high to give them better views of campus landmarks like “Touchdown Jesus” or the Golden Dome.
But such instances of holding have not just been confined to football. One cannot walk into any Sunday dorm liturgy without seeing residents holding one another’s hands during the Our Father or warmly holding each other in an embrace during the Sign of Peace.
I have countless wonderful and positive memories of instances like these. But during Notre Dame’s Good Friday service, I was struck by the realization that sometimes, holding another is not always quite so easy.  
A lone drum sounded as the celebrants proceeded in solemn silence through the main aisle of the Basilica. Gone were the priests’ traditional ornate vestments. Absent was the beautiful lighting that always brings the Basilica to life. Present instead was darkness. Save the light streaming from the 19th century stained glass windows, the bright colors that regularly adorn the ceiling paintings and the brilliant golds and blues of the ornate tabernacle were cast in shadows.
Good Friday is a solemn day, a time to commemorate the death and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. On this particular Good Friday, however, I had a hard time concentrating on Jesus. I was instead focused on Mary.
During the service, a thought struck me that had never struck me before. Mary had a unique opportunity most others have not had in the history of the world: She got to hold the person of Christ. She held him most intimately in her womb for nine months. Then, as he grew older, she taught him to walk. She held him when he stumbled. She embraced him when he knew joy.   
But, in his 33rd year, Mary’s worst nightmare – any mother’s worst nightmare – had come true: Her son was taken away from her. I cannot imagine the grief Mary must have felt as Jesus was removed from the Cross and placed in her arms. On that day, she was not greeted by the familiar, vivacious boy she had come to know, the boy who at a young age had taken it upon himself to teach others in the temple. Instead, she was faced with the weight of the lifeless, broken body of a man who had been scorned and rejected by the very people he was there to save.
On this particular Good Friday, I felt that weight – the weight of Mary’s loss – on my heart. I could not imagine how difficult it must have been to hold Jesus in that moment.   
But that, I imagine, was not the end of the story. Although the Bible doesn’t recount it, it’s hard to imagine the people closest to Mary did not embrace her in those tragic moments. Many could not feel or know the extent of her grief, but they could make sure she didn’t go through it alone.
That love and care is an imperfect representation of the love she would come to know fully three days later. Through Christ’s resurrection, Mary got to experience the love and triumph of a God who says the death, grief, pain, uncertainty and struggle we feel for three days or a lifetime is no match for Him. Our God of love reminds us it is Easter joy, not our sorrow that is to be the end of our story.
Travel to Paris and you’ll find one of my favorite depictions of this joy. On the ceiling above the main altar in the Basilica of the Sacra Coeur stands Jesus, hands outstretched in a gesture of embrace.
This image has long symbolized the living out of Easter joy for me, the triumph of life over death and of joy over pain. It symbolizes the love of a God who always longs to love and embrace us, even when we cannot accept it ourselves.
It’s what Mary’s companions surely did for her, and what we should consequently do for one another.  The triumph of Easter lives now with us. It lives in our embraces. It lives when we hold each other up. It lives when we remember to live lives of love.
Scott Boyle is a graduate of Notre Dame and intern in the Office of Campus Ministry. He can be reached at
[email protected]
    The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.