He is Not Here

By Rose Brennan

Against my own will, something happens to me every Good Friday. And unfortunately, knowing it’s coming doesn’t make it any easier.

I walk through the doors of my home parish. The altar is bare. And the sight that causes me to involuntarily gasp every year: the tabernacle is open—and worse, it’s empty.

When I see the open tabernacle with nothing in it, I feel nothing short of distress. Dramatic? Maybe. But allow me to explain.

There is a certain feeling that comes over me whenever I enter a Catholic place of worship: parish, shrine, chapel or otherwise. I feel a deep and abiding sense of calm and peace. And much of that is tied into the True Presence in the Eucharist. Whether the host is in a monstrance, on the altar or even in the tabernacle, Christ is with me when I am there.

Imagine, then, not feeling that. That sense of peace, gone. Only an open, empty tabernacle.

That absence was one that followed me this Holy Thursday. For the first time, I had the opportunity to undertake a seven church pilgrimage with several other young adults in the diocese, visiting the altars of repose at seven different parishes throughout the city of Bridgeport. And at each of them, an empty tabernacle greeted us.

Many of the parishes had beautiful altars of repose, decorating the repositories where the hosts would remain until Easter. I tried to direct my attention to them, to reflect upon Our Lord’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, recalling his humiliation at the hands of Annas, Caiaphas, Pilate and the crowd as he neared the hour of his crucifixion. But every so often, my eyes would wander to the empty tabernacles, and that feeling of distress would return.

It didn’t get easier with each church I visited. Each time, the same words would come back to me: “He is not here.”

We try to recognize the presence of God in every moment and every aspect of our lives, but there’s something to be said for his True Presence in the Blessed Sacrament. And when he’s not so easily located, it can be very distressing indeed. Especially so when you experience it seven times over.

At about midnight, we found ourselves at the last of the seven churches on our journey. The altar of repose was particularly breathtaking, truly fit for Our Lord as we awaited his resurrection. Once again, the same words came to mind: “He is not here.”

This time, I allowed myself to think and pray more on those words. What might they mean? They surely meant something, if I kept thinking of them.

And then, I recalled what was to come in just a few days. How those exact words– “he is not here” – would come into play for the women at the tomb. The stone rolled back, the burial cloths lying on the ground, and the tomb empty.

Those women must’ve felt the same level of distress I did during the Triduum—perhaps even more so. But unlike the women at the empty tomb, we know how the story ends.

The emptiness of the tomb is a promise fulfilled. The disciples didn’t know Jesus really meant it when he said he’d raise the temple again in three days. Maybe they thought he was being allegorical, as he was known to do.

But no. He kept his promise. And that’s what I remembered when I entered my home parish for Good Friday services this year. Yes, I was still taken aback at the initial emptiness of the tabernacle, but now I had a new perspective.

With the sorrow and bitterness of Christ’s death we commemorate every Good Friday, there is still a promise of the joy to come on Easter Sunday. And in the same way, the emptiness of the tabernacle becomes a promise of the emptiness of the tomb.