On Easter Monday, I went outside to enjoy the glorious sunshine and the warm spring weather. And there behind the main monastery building stood the fire pit used for the Easter Vigil’s new fire Saturday night. Curious to see what was left in it, I removed the mesh cover and was struck unexpectedly by the appearance of the charred remnants. Most of the kindling wood had been consumed entirely, but the larger pieces remained. The phase “Easter ashes” floated through my mind, followed by a long pause. It was as if staring into a sacred mystery that my mind was unable to grasp or penetrate. These weren’t the ashes of Lent (which are made from burning the blessed palm from the previous year’s Passion Sunday). These were Easter ashes, and that made them different somehow.
Last year, there was no Easter fire or Easter Vigil because the coronavirus lockdown happened so suddenly a week or so before Holy Week. But this year, with precautions and changes in place, we were able to observe the Easter Triduum in a relatively familiar way. However, our much-loved family, Oblates, friends and guests were still not able to join us for liturgies. So, while this year’s Easter fire did proclaim the joy of Jesus’s resurrection, it also contained within it a holocaust offering of bittersweet tears. The charred remnants—these Easter ashes—were a sacred reminder of the scars that the pandemic has left on our hearts and on the hearts of so many around the world.
Whatever people want to say about life “getting back to normal” after the pandemic, there is no return to what life was like before COVID-19. Everyone and everything have changed in one way or another. The scars will be with us for the rest of our lives, burned into our memories whether we are conscious of it or not. The questions for us now include, “What meaning will these scars have for me as I look to the future? What are the things in life that I will cherish more dearly? In what ways will I continue to be mindful of the needs of my neighbor? How open am I to the creative possibility that can come from the “ashes” that the pandemic is leaving behind?”
As an Easter people, ashes symbolize for us the transformative power of God’s love, grace, and mercy. Will we allow our lives to be fully consumed and transformed by this mystery?
By Sister Therese Haydel, OSB