The day of nothingness
Holy Saturday is the pause, the space, the moment in between - and it seems particularly significant now, writes Ruth Gouldbourne
Even our churches which are not given to much in the way of liturgical calendars, will often do something to mark Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Easter Day is a given – a time of celebration, of renewal, of joy and affirmation.
But what about that forgotten, neglected day, the Saturday of the week – not Easter Saturday (that comes next week) but Holy Saturday; the day of nothingness, of waiting, of – well, what?
We know what to do, to some extent, with Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. We look forward with longing to Easter Day rejoicing.
But what do we do with Saturday?
It’s easy enough to fill it with stuff; perhaps decorating the church ready for Sunday morning. Perhaps, finally getting around to putting the finishing touches to the service for Sunday morning! Perhaps doing the shopping, preparing the meal for the family gathering Sunday, or just generally doing Saturday stuff. We can fill it; that’s not the problem.
But it’s where the problem lies.
For if and as we fill it, we lose its meaning - and we do to Holy Saturday precisely what Holy Saturday is calling us not to do to our whole lives.
Holy Saturday is the pause, the space, the moment in between – the time between the times, ….the reminder and insistence that, though the work of God in Christ is completed, yet it is not ended, for the Kingdom is not yet, and we live with the longing, the pain, the struggle, the loss, the uncertainty, the lack…the emptiness.
Holy Saturday is the day when the world goes on as before, nothing has changed, violence has won, the powers that dominate and destroy have triumphed and Christ lies dead in the tomb. Holy Saturday is the day the women can do nothing but wait to go and anoint the body, and mourn their beloved without hope. It is the day when those of us who are committed to the Kingdom, who have heard and seen the possibility of something new and promised, look around us and see that it is not yet, that we still mourn the loss of hope, live with the reality of pain, face the inevitability of death.
It is a day when we give up hope.
And the loss of hope is important. The loss of hope is not resignation to despair. It is letting go of our capacity to determine with the future will be, and our ability to make it fit our desire and expectation.
Holy Saturday is the day that calls us to remember the futility of our own hoping and desiring and planning in the face of the powers of evil and destruction. We can fill it with stuff – and then we do to it what it calls us to stop doing with our lives. For our lives, our churches, our structures are all too often our attempts to deal with the intractability of the world in which evil is powerful, and love is all too often about loss. Perhaps such programmes, dreams, plans and activity are even our attempt to deny the sense of loss and emptiness that lurks waiting for us, if we are not busy, we are not doing, we are not able to mark our achievements and our successes or victories by looking back at days well filled and targets met; waiting and mocking and assuring us there is no hope.
Holy Saturday is where, if we are honest, we live a lot of the time. And this year, we cannot deny it, for we cannot fill it with the stuff we normally do. We are constrained and restrained by that over which we have no power — a virus we cannot see or control, a world that is turning out to be intractable again. Something other than our own decision, and our own intention to serve God, is determining how we live, and is victorious over our choices and our decisions.
All we can do is wait it out. All we can do is face the reality of the loss and sit with it. All we can do – all we dare do – is wonder what is going to happen. Because we have no control over it, and we cannot determine what the outcome will be.
Holy Saturday is a day of loss – of loss of control, of loss of a future, of loss of hope.
And all we can do is sit very still.
Because, in the words of a homily written probably within the first two hundred years of the church’s life,
“Something strange is happening — there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and He has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began.”
And the homily continues:
“God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear. He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death (Luke 1:79), He has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, He who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won Him the victory. At the sight of Him, Adam, the first man He had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ Christ answered him: ‘And with your spirit.’ He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.’ (Ephesians 5:14)
The whole thing can be found here.
It may not be language or imagery that we would usually use. But there is in this homily the deep truth that, when we cannot see it, when we are lost – and when we can do nothing – yet God is at work in redemption, and that is enough.
Holy Saturday, the day of nothing, of despair and of emptiness, is a day of a new kind of hope. For it is the day that reminds us irresistibly that it is not by our strength, our intention, our activity or programmes, not even by our prayers and our faith that resurrection happens and the Kingdom comes; it is the will and purpose of God. And even death cannot stop it.
Image | Stefan Kunze | Freely
Ruth Gouldbourne is minister of Grove Lane Baptist Church, Cheadle Hulme
This is the latest in a series of theological and biblical reflections from Baptists for Holy Week and Easter
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