We were celebrating the Easter Vigil Mass at the nursing home. Sister Claire nudged me to get the hand bells ready. As I rang the bells through the Gloria, my mind peacefully returned to an Easter Sunday morning many years ago. I was a young teenager. I was intellectually, but not emotionally ready to follow the Lord’s Passion. I had the eyes and heart of a child. Good Friday, by the time the priest removed Our Lord from the tabernacle, I was ready to scream. That Easter Sunday, my teenage self stared at the closed tabernacle door and the lit sanctuary candle. I told God, “I am glad You are back.”
In preparing for that Easter Vigil Mass, I had frozen when Sister Claire had directed me to throw open the tabernacle. Suddenly, I was again that teenager facing those raw emotions. Sister Claire had gently reminded me that the symbolism was supposed to hurt. Easter morning is about discovering then exploring the world of Jesus’ triumphant return.
Over a number of years, Sister Claire had helped me make the framed puzzles that adorned my classroom walls at Connolly. The side wall of my classroom was devoted to the Paschal Mystery. The puzzles were placed in the space above the blackboard. When you faced the wall, left to right was the Crucifix, clock, and then puzzles. First was the Resurrection. Next was Jesus in the Garden. Completing the sequence was the Last Supper.
The images guided our Lenten and Holy Week reflections. In addition, they provided a context for discussions including: betrayal and rebuilding of trust within relationships; looking at another with one’s heart; what unconditional love looks and feels like; and seeing ourselves as God sees us. Without the foundational understanding that God created us and loves us just as we are, one can never fully appreciate God the Father’s unconditional love made manifest through Jesus’ sacrifice. Finally, the images served as a starting point to discuss what Jesus meant with His call for each of us to take up our cross and follow Him (Mt 16:24).
There were also some surprising discussions. One senior argued that my presentation had “the wrong order” of events. I explained my thought process. Any troubled student always glanced at the clock. In that glimpse, he or she saw both aspects of the Paschal Mystery. Namely, the cross and the Resurrection. By His cross, Jesus conquered sin and death. By His resurrection, Jesus invited each of us to walk in newness of life (Rom 6:4). For each of the crosses we bear for Christ, no matter the pain and suffering, the story did not end with enduring the cross. The story ended with exploring the new world God gifted us. The student said, “Yeah but …. ” So, I replied he could examine the images right to left for the timeline sequence.
One year, interrupting a student presentation in Forensics class, another student screamed, “I can see the hand of God.” She pointed to the puzzle depicting Jesus kneeling in the Garden at Gethsemane. Within seconds, students had the puzzle off the wall and laid across desks. The students saw a very pale, white hand surrounding Jesus. I explained that was the artist’s depiction of Jesus within the palm of God the Father’s hand. It was a blend of “In Your hands is my destiny; rescue me … ” (Ps 31: 16) and God’s angels guarding Jesus and bearing Him up (Ps 91:11-12). The student asked, “Why today?” I realized finally they had never seen the hand before today.
I replied that the miracle wasn’t any change in the cardboard, but the change in us. This seemed to be the way God made the world. One day we simply had eyes to see and appreciate something new. We could wonder why we never saw it before, or we could move forward exploring what this new aspect meant. I’d always found more joy in the latter journey.
Some upperclassmen wondered about my choice of picture for the Last Supper. In the picture, the disciples line either side of the U-shaped table. Standing along the room’s edges are the women who cooked and prepared the Passover meal for Jesus. Jesus is at the center seat, breaking the bread. I replied that this image brought out the essence of both the Last Supper and the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Jesus’ sacrifice as well as the memorial of the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection were for all of God’s creation.
The students knew about the priesthood and its Sacramental presentation of Our Lord. But, many had not considered the more universal call to all men and women. A nun once described this as “Being called to embody the living presence of God.” This begins with God pouring His love into our hearts. The fruits of the Spirit, namely self-control, gentleness, generosity, faithfulness, patience, kindness, peace, love, and joy then allow us to be conduits of God’s love to others.
As the years passed, Sister Claire had to guide Easter Vigil preparations from a pew. One year, this little girl’s eyes widened as I brought out the bells. We moved her to sit between Sister Claire and me. I smiled at Sister Claire, as I gave the child the bells to ring the Gloria. I whispered to her, “Ring the bells. The tomb is empty. Christ is risen. Mankind has been freed to forever dwell bathed in God’s love.”
Anchor columnist Dr. Helen J. Flavin, Ph.D., is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer.