Holy Saturday has been sitting on me. Or batting at me. Like a cat that won’t let you sleep. I had no idea that Holy Saturday even existed until recently. I mean, I understood the mechanics of time, that there had to be a day – a Saturday – between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, but the idea that it might be anything more than a place-holder let alone a named day was lost on me. And then I started exploring liturgical materials for Holy Week with Amy. And since discovering Holy Saturday and what it represents – the day Christ spent in the tomb – the idea of commemorating this day won’t let me alone.
Holy Saturday: the day in the story when nothing happened.
Holy Saturday: the day Jesus was dead, lying motionless in his grave.
Holy Saturday: the day the disciples began to process the cold, hard reality of the death of their leader and the abrupt end to his movement. When the adrenaline rush that fueled them through Jesus’ arrest and trial and tortuous death also died and left them wracked with grief
or paralyzed with fear
or disoriented with shock
or emptied of all emotion and will whatsoever.
Holy Saturday: the day the rest of the Jewish world went about Shabbat as normal, as if unaffected, unconnected to the horror and shame of this latest tragedy.
If Advent is a season of waiting… for something hoped for, Holy Saturday is a season of waiting… when you’re not sure what you’re waiting for or even if there is anything to hope for. Holy Saturday is a day for when your world has ended.
I’ve been there: break-ups, medical diagnoses, leaving beloved communities, deaths. I’m sure you have too. There is an awfulness to the seemingly interminable new reality yawning before you that sucks the life out of you. An incomprehensibility to the rotation of the earth upon its axis that seems out of place with the Armageddon you just experienced, an incongruous normalcy carried out by those who didn’t get hit by the tornado. “Where is God?!?”
As I enter another time of waiting and struggle to remember that there is something to hope for, I remember the world’s ends I have already survived. I didn’t think I would. But I did. And that annoyingly inconceivable sun that keeps shining and that indomitable life that keeps living – somewhere by someone – instead serves as a reminder that, yes God is here. Maybe that’s not most evident in my life right now, but God is here.
God is not just here but God too has known such a waiting, such a depth of sorrow, such a death. God, the giver of life – Jesus, who once called himself THE LIFE – died. What irony. What paradoxical beauty that LIFE experienced death. What solidarity with us and all creation that GOD knows what it is like to suffer, to die, that God entered that much into our experience to taste the fear and shame and pain and loneliness of human existence. Deep down, into the earth, into death. God is not afraid of the difficulties of our realities; God enters into them. Completely. What hope that even when things seem beyond repair, utterly lost and broken and ended, that maybe they are not. Maybe we will need more than three days to see hope, to see life come from death. Maybe we will wait years or decades or centuries. But there is reason nonetheless to hope. God can bring life from death. In the awful waiting of Holy Saturday, we remember just maybe God will do it again.
Some additional readings for you to muse on…
You, the Life, were laid in the grave, O Christ,
and the hosts of the angels shuddered, praising your humility.
(Orthodox) from Procession of Prayers ed. John Carden, pg. 284
Oh God, you go deep down.
From far above where the sun and the stars are to be found,
you come down to earth and enter completely into
the life of humankind; penetrating all living things.
And, not content to remain on the surface,
but going deep down into the dust from which we come,
you restore the land itself to life.
(Australia: the God who goes deep down is a recurring theme in Aboriginal art and prayer)
from Procession of Prayers ed. John Carden pg. 291.
Not straight away. Not at once.
Not in the moment of time in which the veil was torn in two.
Not immediately in order to comfort and promptly to assure
his stricken friends, his ravaged mother.
He did not rise at once. But
on the third day. It was only
when the fact of death had arrived at successively deeper levels into the disciples’ mind; when information had become knowledge;
when knowledge had become truth;
when all were quite sure He was dead:
it was only then that
He rose again.
Lord, when we wait for your promise to come true,
give us patience, give us faith, give us hope,
give us obedience
to wait for
(United Kingdom) From Procession of Prayers ed. John Carden, 287-288.