Why does Holy Saturday exist? Theologically is does not seem to contribute anything when placed alongside the crucifixion and resurrection. If God was trying to get the job done through Jesus, surely He could have confirmed his public death, and then momentarily resurrected Him. Why a whole day where seemingly nothing takes place?
I was the Crowd…
If Good Friday was the crescendo of our lenten wilderness’, then Holy Saturday is the last breath of silence, in musical notation, a fermata.
The same crowd that gathered around Jesus’ preaching, shouted hosanna! on Monday. This same crowd intoxicated by their opportunity to move the hand of Rome through their screams of “Crucify!” all fall silent today.
Silent Saturday reminds us of the purpose of solitude and silence as a Christian practise, to unveil the plastic inner dialogues of our lives and return to the ground of reality in the presence of God.
In silence, we run back over what has taken place, what has gone on. We are forced to recognise in silence our failures and our inability to go back. We realise we were the ones naively proclaiming Hosanna, and we are the ones, when we realise Jesus isn’t here to deliver us a quick-fix Kingdom, shouting Crucify.
We are Peter who brushes off our affiliation with Jesus when it protects us. We are Pilate confronted by questions we can’t answer, wanting proof we will never get, making decisions that are not ideal, but just the way things are. What is truth after all?
Sitting in Silence
As those with hurried inner lives, we want to fill the silence of Holy Saturday. Just as when someone dies suddenly in our own lives, people sit together united in their dumbfoundedness. About 5 years ago someone we knew in Masiphumelele, where we work, died suddenly.
Everyone, it seemed, raced incessantly to attach meaning to it. But even the meekest attempts to unpack some form of meaning to the tragedy of death feels irreverant, unhelpful and wrong. All our elaborate schemes to narrate our lives are unveiled when we experience death and we are, rightly, left in empty silence.
In our rush to affirm that God speaks today, we can inadvertantly insist that he is some kind of blabbermouth that in fact never stops speaking. This is surely the result of what Voltaire described when he said
“If God has made us in his image, we have returned him the favor.”
But Holy Saturday insists that God is silent. Silent to our demands of meaning, Christ did really die, and to all those on the first Holy Saturday, all is lost.
Dwelling in this silent Saturday is actually a space in God’s story that can help us enter our own reality. The ‘Now and Not Yet’ that lent has been trying to train us live in, is also found in silent saturday.
Saturday is the time between death and resurrection. Although Christ, as we will celebrate tomorrow, has initiated the new creation in his resurrection, we continue to wait, in patient faithfulness for the resurrection of all things (Romans 8:22-25).
So in this Holy, silent saturday, we join the psalmist in Psalm 13
How long, O LORD ? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;
my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
Holy Saturday is a space that trains us, as all of lent has been, in the central Christian discipline of waiting.
Our hope for making something happen are unravelled and we are left with an option to trust the silent God is present.
But yet, even in Christ’s death, the inaction and the silence, we can see a recovery of that ancient and foundational sabbath commandment and an echo of God’s action in creation to rest.
Jesus observes the ultimate sabbath as he lays in the tomb. We wait and trust in silence while the King sleeps.
As James Hanvey says;
Holy Saturday is his time.
It is the time when we learn to trust his sacrifice of love which death can neither subjugate nor comprehend.
In Holy Saturday we begin to see that it is he who has made death his instrument; not to terrorise us into submission, but to call us more intimately to his side.
In the purifying darkness of Holy Saturday, we discover the Sabbath of our waiting.
We come to the end of our way and the beginning of his.
It is only Christ who can carry us over into Easter morning, and so it is with all the Holy Saturdays of our life.
Pause and Reflect
Can you make some time today to find some silence and solitude? What are you waiting for? Spend time holding that before the Lord, trusting Him as He speaks or becoming aware of His presence, even in the silence.