Reflections on Holy Saturday
April 7, 2012
What is it that allows us to have just a hint of hope and the ability to grit our teeth in moments of crisis—those times when fear arises like a tsunami—and to respond in the same way at other times of foreboding doom that creeps ever so slowly like a storm on the horizon? I’m not talking about a kind of foolhardy charge of the light brigade into a thunderous blaze of machine gun fire. It’s rather that there are times when we retain a sense of dignity in the face of something horrendous and when with muscles contracted we’re willing ourselves to find a way through what seems impossible.
There is something in the human spirit that seems to find some resources to hold on to some possibility when the scene in front suggests that there is no possible resolution or success to be had. To speak of the human spirit finding strength and fortitude isn’t to talk about the human animal as if we always respond like other creatures when cornered or attacked. That’s sometimes the story of tragedy, but not always.
Life, as we sometimes know it, isn’t just about instinct or about biological survival. There is a story element at work in the response to certain unfathomable situations in human history. It’s not, however, a story that is necessarily logical or connected. Given the circumstances in which most tragedy occurs the response isn’t always scripted or plotted. Only in the rearview mirror of our history, or from the witness of others, does it seem that the pieces of the story, even though they can be horrific and unimaginable, someone carry meaning—a few words, maybe a touch—something that speaks of some kind of lighted way forward.
My thoughts on this topic are shaped in part by Holy Saturday—a strange day in the Christian story—a day mostly without a script. The Episcopal Book of Common Prayer give this day two prayers, a few rubrics and four scripture lessons to read. I think of it as the “Nothing Day.” There isn’t a table to set for the service. No candles need to be lit. There are no assigned hymns. The rubrics say nothing about the role of the ordained on this day.
Still the last word isn’t about nothing. There are times in the face of great evil when at least a few seem bare a kind of resolve that speaks of something deeper—maybe a truth that overcomes the disaster itself. Their life may not matter, and certainly didn’t to the forces that were about to destroy them, but the way they responded suggests that life does matter. The story that is sometimes told, and one hard to fathom, is that what matters more than life itself, is how we die.
What did matter to those first disciples on day following the day now strangely called Good Friday, was that they’d witnessed a horrific ending to a life that was unlike any they had known. He died on a cross, after doing no wrong to anyone, and bringing life, sight, mobility, and most of all dignity, to all sorts and conditions of people. His silence and his failure to call for any kind of retribution toward those who unfairly accused him and plotted his death stood in stark contrast to the violence imposed on him by the crowds, the authorities, and finally by the conscripted Roman soldiers.
On that first Holy Saturday with a dead Jesus walled up in a cold cave covered by a large stone the story he was telling had come to an end. He who seemed so connected to God and who had breathed God’s Spirit, had proved to be fully human to the point of death. What were they, his friends, to do now? It must have been the question they asked over and over again. Some, we know from the story passed on to us, decided to return to their life back in Galilee. Other’s waited—waiting for what we know not, but maybe waiting in that way that involves this matter of the story that informs the human spirit and which leads us to harbor even the faintest hope for what might yet be possible.
I find myself on every Holy Saturday contemplating some of the hard realities of life—none of us avoids death. There is something tragic about all of life in that no creature endures in this world. Yet there’s some sense of purpose and some kind of direction to be discerned. There a moments of pure joy and times to laugh at the absurdity of all. You sing the blues and strangely you feel better, and know that you’re not alone. Any maybe that’s why we keep our Holy Saturday vigil. The disciples silenced by what they’d seen happen had to be keeping quiet vigil with and for their Lord. And we do the same. For the Lord. And for each other. Breathing God’s Spirit—that Spirit that was stirring in that dark tomb. And always stirs in times of waiting. Amen.