The Promise of Holy Saturday
The Green Growing in the Darkness of the Tomb
Spring is in the air in North Carolina. There are new shoots bursting through the dark, damp soil and bringing with them the hope of spring. The dark days are also getting longer since we are on the other side of the solstice.
What if we let the fecundity of spring -- the green growing in the darkness -- be our guide during Holy Week, especially Holy Saturday?
We are Easter people but do we move too quickly from the pain of Good Friday to the Triumph of Easter Sunday? What if we sit in the darkness of Holy Saturday -- sit vigil in the tomb. What gifts would we find? I believe it is there in the darkness grows the greatest green. If we sit in the tomb and be present within our imaginations with the body of Jesus we will discover the fecundity of God germinating, growing in the silence of the darkness much like a seed in the cold ground awaiting the warming sunshine and life giving rain.
Discovering God requires making a space in your 21st century imaginations to sit vigil in the tomb. Making this vigil with your whole body, mind and spirit will entail encountering both suffering and joy in new ways.
Winter is the season of waiting - of holding still. It requires great trust and a willingness to believe that this angst of the frozen, lifeless cold will not last forever. Even though all appears dead and void of movement, there is quiet growth taking place. During the darkness, gestation occurs. … silently … gracefully … Seeds wait patiently for the warm rains. Trees await the warmth of the sun to move sap into their limbs. While we are in our winter space, we may be tempted to give up, to lose hope, to stop believing in ourselves and in the presence of the Holy One because we cannot see growth. Perhaps there is no movement nor trumpets, parades, activity. There is no doing, only being. Winter asks us only to be -- to live with mystery and wait patiently. We are required to keep a delicate balance between yielding to winter's silence and keeping our eyes on a future springtime. I am forever grateful to Joyce Rupp and Macrina Wiederkehr's book The Circle of Life (2005) for these reflections on winter.
God calls us to be part of this cadence in creation of waiting and nowhere is this invitation more clear is Holy Saturday ... the moments between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. On Holy Saturday the world waited, breath held, at the crossroad of the material and immaterial -- suffering and joy. But are we in such a rush to move from the anguish of the crucifixion to the joy of Easter that the gift of Holy Saturday becomes invisible? Have we deceived ourselves with the myth that we are separate from this life cadence? Do we replace waiting with constant busy-ness?
In the tomb we encounter how Jesus remained faithful to the cadence of being fully human while also being fully divine. When we sit vigil with the significance of Holy Saturday we would discover that the newness of created life we experience in the Spring could teach us something about Christ and the Cross.
Picture yourself in the garden where the tomb was located ... now look to the heavens.
When humanity today looks to the heavens, we know that life emerged from a singular moment of great cosmic exuberance wherein the subsequent primordial furnace crafted the elements hydrogen, helium, and lithium. Later, this material formed stars, which gave birth to the elements that would eventually constitute Earth, including the materials that comprise every aspect of our bodies. We have discovered that we are stardust, along with everything around us. And so was Jesus. He embraced this in the tomb where is body lay, experiencing the cadence of diminishment and disintegration that all compilations of stardust experience. We are not alone and Jesus loved so deeply that he took this on -- and transformed death into life. He did not shy away from the messiness of a material life. I don't think it was a coincidence that gardens are used in Scripture as spaces for divine revelation. In Amos (9:14), Ecclesiastes (2:5), Genesis (2), Isaiah (51, 58, 61, 65), Jeremiah, as well as the famous Garden of Gethsemane.
Garden of Gethsemane - Olive Trees
Re-center your imagination and breath deeply. You are at the mouth of the tomb just after the stone was rolled into place and darkness engulfed the space. Look deeply into the rocks and ground that was carved away to make this space. What do you see?
When humanity today looks deeply into Earth’s mantle and examines the diverse flora and fauna on its surface, we discover that Earth is immensely creative, bringing forth novelty and complex ways of being for millions of years. We also realize that everything is intertwined in a vast web of relationality since we share a common origin story. Another amazing lesson is that all living bodies—including our own—are powered by sunshine gifted by tiny organisms capable of photosynthesis. The body of Jesus was swept up in Earth's creative fertility and willingly took on the shadowy side of being in relationship with a finite world: suffering, diminishment, and death. Not only did Jesus withstand the inflicted suffering of rejection and abandonment thanks to sin, he also embraced and transformed the inherent suffering of being a created being who participated in the creative impetus of the cosmos.
Now re-center your imagination one last time on the cool darkness and silence of the tomb. Sit vigil and become aware of the minutia of the air, the dampness, the lack of audible sound -- only your own breath. What do you discover?
More recently, when humanity was able to study the extreme minutia (subatomic and quantum) of life, we truths about the nature of created life was revealed: There is order in chaos, and contingency and cruciformity is inherent at every level of life. To be part of creation means we participate in the cadence of life -- giving and receiving; birth and death; the bringing of newness out of death and decay. So too did Jesus.
Sitting vigil Holy Saturday can broaden the horizon of meaning for Emmanuel (God with us) and the Cross. Jesus became flesh (incarnate) by emerging from Earth’s creative processes that began when God loved all that is into existence. Jesus experienced inherent suffering -- he got hungry and thirsty, had growing pains, experienced fatigue, etc... -- during his life and ministry. But often this aspect of his 'full' humanity is missed but not if one sits vigil in the tomb. Jesus chose to become a man and took on all that was associated with this gift but Jesus also experienced inflicted suffering as many of us do -- rejection, humiliation, injustice, alienation, and violence. This is sin and he felt its effects deeply. This is another lesson of Holy Saturday.
If you sit vigil at the tomb you can discover Christ’s presence in the world from Bethlehem back to the big bang and forward from Golgotha to end time. We are not alone in the darkness of our lives: green is eternally growing in the darkness because we are never alone.
Also Jesus’ taking on inherent and inflicted suffering elicited powerful responses from those in relationships with him; both at the foot of the cross and at the tomb -- the brief time of waiting, in the darkness, before Easter. The women courageously were present and prophetically resisted suffering by companioning God’s suffering servant at great personal cost to themselves. They remained present and their compassionate companionship witnessed to the darkness of Christ’s crucifixion that love will prevail despite their powerlessness to change the outcome. HOPE does not clutch at a mere chance … transformation, fullness of abundant life awaits because Christ brings life from death.
The universe story narrates a tale of active resistance to suffering and death but never a denial of the kenotic cadence of life, death, and new life. The promise of Holy Saturday awaiting us in the darkness is discovering that God is with us in ways that testify to the intrinsic worth and transformative hope laying fallow in suffering and death. This addresses the fears of many sufferers that their life is/was meaningless and they are worthless -- and that they will have to face it alone in a world seemingly intolerant to people who age, suffer, or are dying. Christ does not promise a life without suffering instead, Christ will transform darkness into light and life in ways we cannot even imagine.