We must have faith during the period of our grief. We think that our afflictions will be greater than we can bear, but we do not know the strength of our own hearts, nor the power of God.
-François Fénelon, 17th century
Holy Saturday. I cannot remember when I last wrote a reflection on Holy Saturday. It has always been a day I have treasured. With the hectic schedule of Holy Week – from the bustle and joy of Palm Sunday to the quiet reflections of Maundy Thursday and then the theologizing on the meaning of the cross on Good Friday – Holy Saturday was always a quiet, reflective day for me. Yes, it usually includes composing an Easter message for the next morning, sometimes two when I would also preach at the Sunrise worship. But there were usually no other demands, no other requests, just a time to be quiet and get ready for Easter.
But rarely did that include a time to reflect on the meaning of this day in the movement of Holy Week. Rarely did I pause to consider what it meant that Jesus lay for this day in the stillness of the tomb. But other theologians have reflected on this day. UCC theologian Walter Brueggemann says that we don’t pause on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter because we already know the end.
Theologian Shelly Rambo, who works in the discipline of trauma studies calls us to pay more attention to Holy Saturday. She points out that it is an important moment in which “you’re living beyond a death, a kind of metaphorical death, but can’t see life clearly ahead.”
As a hospice chaplain who has spent extensive time sitting with families at the bedside of dying loved ones; companioning them in the moments immediately after death as their grief moves from “anticipatory” to “full blossoming reality”; counseling them in the months that follow and they continue their struggle with on-going grief. The experience of trauma and the experience of death are not momentary but on-going realities. Holy Saturday acknowledges that reality.
To pause and reflect on the meaning of Holy Saturday is to acknowledge that “Yes, Jesus really did die.” Jesus is in the grave and for his earliest followers that was a period when all hope had died and been buried with him. This is a day of doubt; despair; disillusionment; silence. It is not a day of waiting. It is a day of the opposite of waiting. It is a day of defeat.
Holy Saturday reminds us that we will have such days in our lives. To be an Easter people; to be followers of a Risen Jesus; to be God’s people does not mean that we never again face doubt, despair, disillusionment, or grief. Human reality includes those moments – always has and always will. And knowing the end of the story and the message of Easter, for those in the midst of Holy Saturday moments, does not totally and completely help.
What does help is to have faithful companions who will stay with you in the midst of your Holy Saturday silence and not fill it up with meaningless words. What does help is to have companions who will not run away from your tears, your questions, your moans of grief, but will hold you, sit with you, and allow you to fully experience the painful reality of Holy Saturday with companionship so you know you are not really alone.
Don’t rush through Holy Saturday straight to Easter Sunday. Take some time to acknowledge your own moments of grief; your own doubts about the future; your own fears for the planet, for your children, your grandchildren. Then come and join us on Easter Sunday at either 8:55 a.m. in the Garden Chapel or at 10:30 a.m. in the Sanctuary, and allow the joy of Easter and the mysterious message of the Empty Tomb, to speak to you in all the fullness of your humanity.
R. Steven Hudder
Pastor, Christ Congregational United Church of Christ
Palmetto Bay, Florida