A ‘Day of Madness’ in the Time of Plague: An Easter Story

For Christmas last year, my excited fiancée revealed to me that she had engraved on the inside of my wedding band “Le Nozze di Nicholas,” after our favorite opera, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. In the opera, Figaro and Susanna are just trying to get married, yet their wedding day is beset by the usual obstacles—a lecherous count, flirting teenagers, pesky lawyers, and mistaken identities—all of which warrant the apt subtitle of “the day of madness.”

Having watched this opera countless times with Amanda, I never thought that we would end up having our very own “day of madness.” Of course, instead of 18th-century tropes getting in our way, we had madness inspired by an international pandemic.

It’s strange to think that a month ago Amanda was coming up with a final “to-do” list for our then-planned 80-person wedding. She was in the midst of these preparations when I called to tell her that I would be telecommuting for the last two weeks before the big day. That seemed crazy enough. Imagine telling coworkers who I had invited to the wedding “I guess the next time you see me I’ll be married!”

Then we saw that Washington, D.C.’s Roman Catholic Diocese suspended all public masses indefinitely. Frantically, we started calling both the church and various vendors to see if everything would still be able to go on as planned. Thankfully, our priest said that unless someone told him it was illegal, he would still officiate our wedding.

A few days later, President Trump recommended that all public gatherings be limited to 50 people. Amanda and I had already had guests cancel on us by this point, including my 93-year-old grandmother, but everyone with whom we had a contract assured us that we were still a “go.” But before we could even catch our breath and cut our guest list, the president revealed new guidelines that said all public gatherings would be limited to 10 people.

This was the point at which everything began to fall apart. The hotel’s events coordinator was laid off and the hotel canceled our reception. The store from which I was planning to rent the tuxedos sent an email saying, “We will not be able to fulfill your order at this time, we are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause.” And a good friend (who was also the organist) told me that he was going to be stuck in New York City and that he was having a hard time finding singers to perform the Mass I had written for Amanda as a wedding gift.

We were a week out from our wedding day and it seemed like each new day brought further restrictions to our immediate happiness. Morale between the two of us was pretty low. That said, we would jokingly say “Well it can’t get any worse than today!” knowing full well that it probably would. There were a few times that we half-heartedly floated out the idea of postponing (until when?), but both of us knew that we couldn’t wait any longer to be married.

In the end, we did it. Through all of the craziness and fear of further travel restrictions, we managed to have both of our loving and wonderful families come, and I got to marry the best woman in the world on the most wonderful day of my life.

Having now had a week to relax and enjoy being married, I noticed that Easter was inching ever closer and the thought began to settle that my prediction and hope of “the Church being open for Easter” would be sorely wrong. Reflecting on this, I realize how much the experience of getting married in crisis made the Easter message all the more real.

For the Apostles, life must have looked truly backward. The God-man who rode into Jerusalem and was hailed as the King of Israel had nails driven through his body at week’s end. What more was left? The man they had given up everything to follow seemingly had been killed by the ruling authorities of the day. But this was no ordinary man, He was the Son of God.

The day began on the first Easter just like any other. The Twelve kept to themselves hidden in fear in the Upper Room. The three women set out to visit the tomb, yet found the stone removed and the body gone. No sooner did Christ appear, telling Magdalene to cease her tears. Soon after, Christ revealed Himself to the Apostles, wounds and all, sending them forth with the Great Commission.

Our wedding, in its own small way, mimicked that Gospel account. The final week of our engagement saw a similar “turning-upside-down” of our lives with the dismantling of the wedding we had planned. In the midst of what was supposed to be a great opening up of possibility, we found ourselves “sheltered-in place” and in the dark about our coming future.

But when the day finally arrived we were both seized with joy. Just as it had been a normal day for anyone who, on that first Easter, was not at the tomb or in the upper room, it is difficult for us to describe that joy. For us, as it was for the women at the tomb or the apostles in the Upper Room, it was the dawn of a new age, making that solemn promise before God to love each other until the end of our natural lives was all the wedding we needed.

Finally, many Christians today tend to focus on the joy of the Resurrection. And who wouldn’t? Isn’t life too short to focus on suffering?

But we must remember the words of St. Paul: “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God . . . we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” What seems foolish and depressing to the world, for the Christian, is a mark of true belief, and reason enough to call that Friday good. Christ’s perfected body appears after the Resurrection, wounds and all. This is meant to show us that the suffering Christ endured was essential for the joy that was to come. You cannot have one without the other.

Reflecting on this showed me the real meaning of the hardships my wife and I faced. In the end, they made the wedding. It seems only fitting then that I cannot finish this piece on my own. I need my other half to explain in her beautifully clear way what all of this means . . .

“When people plan for a wedding in this day and age there’s a million-and-one things to do. After having everything canceled and family and friends unable to attend, I thought there was no possible way that it would be the same. When the day finally came, I saw the love of our families surround us in that moment. I met my best friend at the altar in front of God and realized that is all a wedding needs to be. It was everything I dreamed of and more. I cannot wait to begin this new chapter of our lives together as your wife.”

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About Nicholas Bartulovic

Nicholas Bartulovic is a graduate student at St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD. He is a former Ashbrook Scholar and lives in Alexandria, VA with his wife.

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