And a man named Joseph, who was a member of the Council, a good and righteous man (he had not consented to their plan and action), a man from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who was waiting for the kingdom of God; this man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.And he took it down and wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid Him in a tomb cut into the rock, where no one had ever lain. It was the preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. Now the women who had come with Him out of Galilee followed, and saw the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and perfumes.
And on the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.
Holy Saturday is a day most of us would rather forget. And most of us do. Or we at least relegate it to another mundane day as we await the grandeur of Easter. I have heard and seen many, many people quip, “It’s Friday, but Sunday is a comin’.”
Yet I have to ask: What about Saturday?
I spent most of my life within the Western conservative Evangelical culture. The workings of this culture have centered around many things, but few have had a stronger hold than the vehement division between Protestant and Catholic everything and the intermingling of the American Dream and the Kingdom of God.
The first (typically) played (and still does play) itself out in the eradication of anything that smacks of Catholicism. This usually manifests itself in a skepticism at best and belittling arrogance/violence at worst when anything Catholic – read “anything from church tradition or history” – is brought into the light. Be it a simple reading of the Creed – doesn’t matter which one, just use the word “Creed” – or an observance of Lent or, so I’ve heard from friends, praying in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; this culture tends to dismiss these practices and more as not being truly Christian, being too structured and therefore spiritually inhibiting, or as plain evil. Anemia has struck our Christian imaginations and, needless to say, observing the Christian Calendar doesn’t occur in many circles.
The latter (typically) manifested (and still does manifest) itself in a myriad of ways. In light (or I should say, “In darkness”) of Holy Saturday, I just want to point out a few. First, our preoccupation with wiping out death has skewed our imaginations. We have developed procedures and technologies that have all been aimed at ridding us of death. For a culture perpetuating youth, vitality, and beauty, death doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t fit into the mechanism of America and therefore is seen as weakness impeding my forward progress. To make oneself present to it is foolish. Second, suffering and death do not produce results, at least not ones we like. Immediate is what we like; add in a bunch of shine and polish and we’re all set. In a culture always longing after the new and after that which produces, death will always get dismissed because of its inherent nature of finality and stench. We have become a society falsely believing we can be a rootless one, bereft of the past in a pursuit of the future. Our anemic imaginations are second only to our hole-filled memories. So, in a world of pursuing the American Dream of autonomy, happiness, and self-fulfillment, things like interdependence, joy, and service – things requiring death and suffering – will always play second fiddle.
Perhaps the coalescence of these two factors have allowed us to forget Holy Saturday. Here we find that there is much more to life than the mono-seasoned ecclesial life of the modern church. Here we find that Jesus proclaimed, “Come and die” not just “Join with me in the kingdom and its rewards.” Here we find that light shines forth in the darkness, not that light shines forth in the light. Here we find the kingdom of God enters through Good Friday, Holy Saturday and then Easter. Our tendency to fast-forward from Friday to Sunday gets shut down as we are faced with being present to what actually took place: the death of Jesus.
And so, we find ourselves today at the standstill of the Christian calendar.
The birth of Jesus, with its lights and organs and choirs, with its Glorias and its assurances of liberation to come, seems far away now. The Magi, with their cosmic promise, are long gone. The baptism in the Jordan and the voice it brought down from heaven have faded now, dimmed and muted by time. The healings of the wounded and the wonders done for women, the care for foreigners and the embrace of outcasts, have as much a taste of fancy to them now as they once did of truth. The triumphal entry into Jerusalem is, at best, a mocking memory. Before the new day had barely dawned, it had been swallowed up in darkness.
The urge to move beyond this standstill is strong, especially in a time when we know what Sunday holds. Unlike his first disciples, we can easily stand on the promises of Easter. However, for those in Jesus’ circle, “Nobody, but nobody, was saying to themselves, ‘Well, it’s all right because in three days he’ll rise again as he said.’ They had been expecting him to bring in God’s kingdom, and never in their wildest dreams had they thought that would involve his being crucified by the pagan authorities.” It was a day of “absolute nothingness.”
We fear the darkness of Saturday because of what it holds: mystery, the unknown, and the uncertain.
Perhaps, like his disciples of old, it would do us well as his disciples of today to reflect upon what it would be like to see Jesus die. To let it sink in that Jesus, the King, the Messiah, the Appointed One, is now the Dead One, the Man of Sorrows, the Broken Bread and Poured Out Wine.
Allow yourself “to imagine what it must have meant to have to say, over and over again, ‘Jesus is dead.’”
Allow the darkness to do its work.
Today is Holy Saturday.