For many years, my thoughts from the Good Friday service to the Easter Vigil service tend towards a song sung by Elvis Presley. (Yes, I am a fan.) If you guessed that the song is “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” you would be correct. Though a bit sentimental, the song captures something of the character of loneliness. Listen to some of the lines:
Are you lonesome tonight? Do you miss me tonight?
Are you sorry we drifted apart?
Does your memory stray to a brighter sunny day?
. . . . . . . . .
Do the chairs in your parlor seem empty and bare?
Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there?
Is your heart filled with pain? Shall I come back again?
Tell me dear, are you lonesome tonight?
I think that I can point to a number of elements in the Gospel story of the passion and death of Jesus that suggest that feeling of loneliness. Let me stick with the apostles.
What feelings filled the hearts and minds of these intimate followers of Jesus at his death? Well, part of them feared that they might experience the same horrible death as he had. Guilt probably weighed down some parts of their hearts as they regretted that they had not been more loyal to him. Part of them felt lost and wondered what to do and where to go. And, I would propose that they felt lonely. They would never hear Jesus’ voice again, never see him in action, never sit at the same table with him. No more would they walk with their friend and teacher. I think that they would be lonely.
The resurrection overturns all these feelings. Jesus was alive, never to die again! When he appears to the disciples gathered in one place, his welcome is “Peace.” No accusations, no cataloguing of faults would enter the room. That one word wiped clean all the blame of fear, guilt, and aimlessness. Their loneliness was also resolved. Jesus came to be with them forever. He brought life, hope, and conviction. Moreover, he drew the community together. They would never be lonely again.
On Holy Saturday, the Church invites us to be lonely. The Blessed Sacrament is no longer on the altar in our Churches. No special liturgy offers us an opportunity to gather as a community until the evening. We can experience the day as an invitation to quiet and meditation, and that is a very good thing. Part of our reflection might focus on how much we miss the Lord in his ordinary presence. The Easter Vigil can lift us with an eagerness to listen to his story and his call. We, too, can hear a message of life and hope and conviction as we celebrate together.
This time of the virus in our country and world has contributed to a sense of loneliness for many people. Pope Francis mentions it in his message for Holy Week. I see, hear and feel it. We sympathize with this experience that takes various forms in the lives of many. In the end, however, as a Christian people, we know that we are never alone and will never be alone. Jesus spends time with his disciples after the Resurrection. When the moment for the Ascension arrives, he offers them this promise (Matt 28:20):
“And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
We rejoice in the same promise made to us in these Easter Days.