By Michelle Francl-Donnay

He himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you!” In a state of alarm and fright, they thought they were seeing a ghost. But he said, “Why are you so agitated, and why are these doubts rising in your hearts?” – Lk. 24: 36b-38

“The weather bureau reported itself at a loss to account for the sudden snowfall….” read the article in the Chicago Tribune on Easter Monday 1964. Easter that year had dawned on an unexpectedly snowy landscape. My mother, seven months pregnant, had been up all Holy Saturday night, putting the finishing touches on our Easter outfits. She’d heard the wind howling, but hadn’t realized it was a near blizzard outside. {{more}}

I still remember my mother’s insistence that, despite the bitter weather, we would wear the new spring coats she’d spent all night finishing, blue tweed for my brother, pink for the girls. My father, knowing he was outmatched, bundled the three of us up in a blanket, put us on the sled and towed us through 10 inches of snow to St. Luke’s for Easter Mass. It may have looked like winter, but the springing to life of Easter was not to be so easily thwarted.

In retrospect, I wonder if it was that early Easter of contradictions that set the tone for later Easters. Easter is a feast that often leaves me feeling like the disciples in this scene from Luke, frightened by the sudden appearance of the risen Jesus, while simultaneously trying to grasp His joyous greeting, “Peace be with you!”

Two decades after that memorable surprise Easter snowstorm, my celebration of Easter was once again paradoxical. I spent Easter morning eating brunch in a local hotel where the noise of families celebrating in their Easter finery burbled merrily around me, and Easter afternoon in the hush of a funeral home greeting mourners at my husband’s wake.

St. Augustine, reflecting on how the disciples faced the reality of the resurrection, well captures these contradictory emotions, “they were still flustered for joy; they were rejoicing and doubting at the same time.” I struggled that Easter, and struggle still, to reconcile my own grief at Tom’s loss with my joy for him, now at rest in God. So I find Augustine’s matter-of-fact acknowledgment of the tumultuous reactions of the disciples in the aftermath of the resurrection to be consoling.

In fact, Augustine notes, within this swirling chaos is an opportunity for grace. The disciples on the road to Emmaus were also troubled, and poured forth their confusion to a Christ they could not recognize and in “the depth of their despair, all unwitting, they showed the doctor their wounds.” Even if I could not fully comprehend Christ resurrected in my life at such a moment, Christ could yet work on the wounds that my very struggle to grasp the realities revealed.

Sixteen hundred years later, Augustinian Father Martin Laird echoes Augustine’s wisdom to those seeking to find Christ’s “Peace be with you!” in prayer and contemplation: “When we turn within to seek this peace, we meet inner chaos instead of peace. But at this point it is precisely the meeting of chaos that is salutary.” The resurrection does not obliterate the pain of Christ’s passion, or of our own travails. Instead, like the disciples in the upper room, and on the road to Emmaus, it is a place where those of us who are flustered by joy in sorrow, who are simultaneously mourning and rejoicing, meet Christ. It is the place where Christ works within us.

Even in their fullness, the first disciples’ lives would be marked by contradiction and chaos. Nourished by joy, filled with grace, nevertheless they would be tried by fire. Perhaps Easter snowstorms shouldn’t be so unexpected after all.

All-powerful God, help us to proclaim the power of the Lord’s resurrection. May we who accept this sign of the love of Christ come to share the eternal life he reveals. Amen. – From the Opening Prayer for Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter

Michelle Francl-Donnay is a member of Our Mother of Good Counsel Parish in Bryn Mawr. She can be reached at: