The Necessary Terror of Holy Saturday

The Death of Jesus. Lodwar Cathedral, Kenya.

I’ve always appreciated the awkwardness of Holy Saturday.

It’s like, ok, the dark part is over now.  Goodness is on the way….we can start to arrange Easter baskets and maybe even have a Holy Saturday party!  Indeed, the all-encompassing “Easter Vigil” Mass/Service (depending where you hail from) happens in the late afternoon of Holy Saturday.  Sometimes I have the urge to yell, “He’s not alive yet! You’ve barely given him 24 hours to be dead and do all the awesome stuff Jesus did after he died!”

But I understand the liturgical greatness of the service, even if the father-of-toddler in me shudders at the thought of surviving a three-hour Mass with little ones.  I’ll go to Mass Easter morning, thank you.  I’ll save the fancy vigil for all those without young kids who can’t help but eat every hour and announce to the world when they’ve filled diapers.  Loudly.

Even the “Holy Triduum” leaves it out like a fourth wheel.  Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday….ummm….  As we enter into this Holy Saturday, for whoever might check facebook or their blog reader today, permit me to reflect a moment on why this day is so transformitavely important for the church today.

Holy Saturday reminds us that the resurrection was not immediate, and the people were really just scared little children.

I cannot imagine the doubts and fears going through the many disciples’ heads after Jesus was executed, naked, in horrible shame.  Most were not even present at the execution.  Only a few heard Jesus’ last words.  The rest, like Peter, no doubt denied knowing Jesus, hid in various places, and wept.  Did they sleep the night after Jesus died?  They had no TV or internet to distract them from the pain.  Perhaps the cry of a child brought some of them comfort.

No doubt more than a few people said things like, “I knew something so good couldn’t be true.  Isn’t this how things always go?  Clearly his faith was not real–just another crazy who got on the wrong side of the Romans.”  I imagine many people who saw Jesus die never actually saw him risen from the dead.  As I said in a previous Easter post, the resurrection was not a public revelation.  Jesus appeared to pointed people and in specific places for what seems to be very specific purposes.

For many people who did not hear of Jesus’ resurrection, Holy Saturday simply became reality.

And after the closest disciples knew of Jesus’ resurrection, even then nearly two months passed before they had the courage to tell the world.  Many came to believe, but many, many, many more did not.  Of those who saw or heard of “Jesus the Teacher Who Was Executed by the Roman Government,” how many ever moved beyond Holy Saturday…beyond the sorrowful acceptance of Jesus’ death and what it means for the difficulties of the world?

How many of us ever actually move beyond Holy Saturday?  I am so often blinded by the commonplace statement that Jesus “rose from the dead” that I forget the terror and reality of the space between death and resurrection.  I have known of many deaths since I have been alive in the 20th and 21st century, and no one has come back to life.  Not after a few days.  I don’t care how holy of a person they were…I would be so terrified.  Imagine if Romero had come back to life after being gunned down during Mass in 1980?  If John Paul II had come back to life, with full use of limbs and mind, in 2005?  If Benazhir Bhutto–the hope of Pakistan–had emerged from the morgue after a few days?  The thought alone scares me, for it rejects all commonsense scientific notions of “death” and, well, “life.”

This shock is the importance of Holy Saturday.  We move so quickly from sorrow to rejoicing that we forget the terror in between.  

There is so much terror still in the world.  Rape Culture is real and horrific, permeating our North American classrooms, courtrooms, and daily lives.  Homophobia runs rampant–despite how many equal signs you may have seen on facebook recently, being gay is still a crime punishable by death in parts of the world.  Women and children are traded as sex slaves to rich North Americans on a daily basis.  The United States has a nearly-permanent lower class which is disproportionately Black and Hispanic. And, of course, people still live in such abject poverty around the world that they fend for scraps from city landfills and depend on “charity” of wealthy Europeans and Americans.  Somehow, somewhere, I pray for a more Christian world that would have everyone being fed and safe before I could access the Internet.

If we view Easter Sunday as completing what God began at creation, we are completely missing the point.  Easter Sunday is about beginning a journey of hope, not about rejoicing in the arrival of the end.  The early Christians, with such limited access to secular political positions, I think could never quite grasp this point.  But now, with 1 of every 3rd person in the world self-identifying as “Christian”…perhaps now we can begin to see the other side of Holy Saturday and remember that we must always recognize the terror of the world before we can begin to transform it into hope.

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