Holy Saturday is rather easy to miss, to not notice it or allow it to color our lives. I write this in the hope that Holy Saturday may color our lives with that deep intimate, tender quiet that comes from allowing ourselves to be touched, even just a bit, by as shared awareness of our sadness. I offer this not because I advocate negativity, etc, but rather because the joy is so much greater when we allow the actual weight of grief to mark our souls. First are the collect and scripture readings appointed for this day by the Book of Common Prayer. Then comes the reflection.
May you know both the intimate silence and beauty of this Holy Day, Holy Saturday, as well as the wild, uncontainable joy of the resurrection Feast of Easter.
O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Old Testament Job 14:1-14 (Common English Bible)
1 All of us are born of women, have few days, and are full of turmoil.2 Like a flower, we bloom, then wither, flee like a shadow, and don’t last. (3 Yes, you open your eyes on this one; you bring me into trial against you.) 4 Who can make pure from impure? Nobody. 5 If our days are fixed, the number of our months with you, you set a statute and we can’t exceed it.6 Look away from us that we may rest, until we are satisfied like a worker at day’s end.7 Indeed there is hope for a tree. If it’s cut down and still sprouting and its shoots don’t fail, 8 if its roots age in the ground and its stump dies in the dust, 9 at the scent of water, it will bud and produce sprouts like a plant. 10 But a human dies and lies there; a person expires, and where is he? 11 Water vanishes from the sea; a river dries up completely. 12 But a human lies down and doesn’t rise until the heavens cease; they don’t get up and awaken from sleep. 13 I wish you would hide me in the underworld, conceal me until your anger passes, set a time for me, and remember me. 14 If people die, will they live again? All the days of my service I would wait until my restoration took place.
|Psalm 130 De profundis|
| 1 Out of the depths have I called to you, O LORD; LORD, hear my voice; * let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication. 2 If you, LORD, were to note what is done amiss, * O LORD, who could stand? 3 For there is forgiveness with you; * therefore you shall be feared. 4 I wait for the LORD; my soul waits for God; * in God word is my hope. 5 My soul waits for the LORD, more than watchmen for the morning, * more than watchmen for the morning. 6 O Israel, wait for the LORD, * for with the LORD there is mercy; 7 With God there is plenteous redemption, * and the Holy One shall redeem Israel from all their sins.
Epistle 1 Peter 4:1-8 Common English Bible (CEB)
1 Therefore, since Christ suffered as a human, you should also arm yourselves with his way of thinking. This is because whoever suffers is finished with sin. 2 As a result, they don’t live the rest of their human lives in ways determined by human desires but in ways determined by God’s will. 3 You have wasted enough time doing what unbelievers desire—living in their unrestrained immorality and lust, their drunkenness and excessive feasting and wild parties, and their forbidden worship of idols. 4 They think it’s strange that you don’t join in these activities with the same flood of unrestrained wickedness. So they slander you. 5 They will have to reckon with the one who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 Indeed, this is the reason the good news was also preached to the dead. This happened so that, although they were judged as humans according to human standards, they could live by the Spirit according to divine standards. 7 The end of everything has come. Therefore, be self-controlled and clearheaded so you can pray. 8 Above all, show sincere love to each other, because love brings about the forgiveness of many sins.
Gospel Matthew 27:57-66 57 That evening a man named Joseph came. He was a rich man from Arimathea who had become a disciple of Jesus. 58 He came to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate gave him permission to take it. 59 Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had carved out of the rock. After he rolled a large stone at the door of the tomb, he went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting in front of the tomb. 62 The next day, which was the day after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate. 63 They said, “Sir, we remember that while that deceiver was still alive he said, ‘After three days I will arise.’ 64 Therefore, order the grave to be sealed until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people, ‘He’s been raised from the dead.’ This last deception will be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate replied, “You have soldiers for guard duty. Go and make it as secure as you know how.” 66 Then they went and secured the tomb by sealing the stone and posting the guard.
A Reflection on Holy Saturday
This day is important to me because over the years it has helped me to learn something that is otherwise rather difficult to even consider. As much as I would rather not, as much as so much if life pushes against it, there is great value in allowing ourselves to be touched by grief. It is the value of acknowledging to ourselves in community that we are sad, that something or someone beloved is no longer part of our lives in the way that they were before.
Reading the lessons appointed for this day, I too have a hard time finding any of what I have just written in those lessons. (Job may be the most useful here.) Most of the lessons are more of that aspect of “salvation” having to do with forgiveness of sins, and the trust that God does that. And I do not dismiss that aspect as unnecessary, or entirely “wrong.” But I do find that it is not enough and that there is much more in this story should we need or seek more than that forgiveness of sins.
My deeply woven memories of many years of celebrating this liturgy with Martin Olsen at Trinity Episcopal Parish in Seattle is I now see, probably having more influence on my understanding than the collect and the lessons. And from this vantage point of many years later, it seems to me that it was the aesthetic tone of the music, prayers, and silence more than the words that has marked me so deeply and caused me to learn something from those experiences.
Going to the Easter Vigil after having entered into that silence, and even sadness of Holy Saturday was an entirely different experience from what happens without it. Yes, the collect does suggest that we know what is about to happen, resurrection. Perhaps I am saying the Collect has it wrong, that we need a new collect here to allow for what is not yet know, and for the astounding, totally unexpected New Life that is about to come where it is least expected!
But I really don’t think that reading/ collect fits that story. It certainly does not fit either the prayers about sin, (Jesus was not in need of forgiveness), nor Joseph of Arimathea’s most generous gift of “his own new tomb.” One does not give away one’s “own new tomb” if one has any glimmer that it will be used only for a few days.
Today is simply about allowing that healthy kind of sadness that we actually need in our lives. It is quiet, intimate, gentle, very painful in some ways, but also priceless at the same time.
“Waiting without hope” is how Eliot puts it in “East Coker, III”, in the Four Quartets.
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
There is the wisdom of this day: to acknowledge to each other that we do NOT know what to do now, that we are simply in this place of knowing what has happened. It is sinking in and our initial response is stunned silence. Anything else, more… will come later on. But for now, stunned silence is the best, most honest response we might have.
This writing is my silence for this day. I have not yet figured out how to collect others to commemorate this day with this sensibility. It would be wonderful to do so, yet I am so profoundly thankful for the memories of when I was able to do that. Those memories still work and they carry a great deal of what I feel is missing when we zip from Good Friday to the Easter Vigil (or Easter morning) without allowing the weight and beauty and intimacy of this holy day to sink into our souls.
A new Collect for Holy Saturday:
Holy One, Creator of all: May the weight of the crucified body of Jesus your Son mark our souls with tenderness and compassion, as we enter into the silence of this Holy day. May we wait without hope yet open to the longed for but completely unexpected New Life that is your gift to all Creation. You who live in us through the Spirit. Amen.