In-Sight: The Necessity of Holy Saturday

One of my abiding memories of Jeannie’s and my trip to the Holy Land is the time we spent in and around the garden tomb.  The way things worked out, we had a longer period of waiting than was usually the case on a tour.  So, it was unusually quiet.  Because of that, I have taken with me the experience of a holy silence in that sacred place.

I venture that Saturday of the first holy week was the quietest day of any that preceded or followed it.  For one thing, it was the Sabbath.  Added to that was the grief which enshrouded Jesus’ friends, nearly all of whom had been knocked off their feet by his death on the Cross–leaving them confused, grieving, and largely hopeless so far as the future was concerned. 

Whatever else, they did not go through Saturday expecting a resurrection. That’s something we do today only because we have a completed story which they did not have.  There was no, “It’s Saturday, but Sunday’s coming” cliché to tide them over.  And so, I am thinking holy Saturday was a day of relative silence for the disciples.

Because so little is recorded in the Bible about holy Saturday, we tend to move past it.  But that is a mistake.  Saturday is in the story as much as any other day.  And this year, I am sensing its importance even more–that is, the importance of garden-tomb quietness in the face of confusion, grief, and uncertainty.

We are passing through a period of time when religious, social, and political events are (at least for some of us) “entombing” our deepest beliefs and our best hopes for life, replacing them with stenches of death–e.g. arrogance, greed, bigotry, violence, and other deformative elements which comprise “the kingdoms of this world” as they “crucify Christ” and oppose the Kingdom of God he incarnated and inaugurated.

We need holy Saturday, and other days like it to “be still and know that God is God”–as one translation puts it: to “cease our striving” as a way of regaining our sight and reclaiming our faith.  Holy Saturday is a crucial metaphor for this indispensable need.

In the garden quietness that is proximate to the tomb, we can see that it is not the future we need to claim, it is the present.  In his poem “The Wild Geese,” Wendell Berry puts it this way,

“And we pray,
not for new earth or heaven,
but to be quiet in heart,
and in eye, clear.
What we need is here.”

Without this, we defer reality to some vague future moment (one illustration being “Make America Great Again”), rather than recognizing that it is our present attitudes and actions which shape the future.  Life deferred leaves us with a vacuum into which fear, feelings of being threatened, and demagoguery rush. We are foolish to believe a constructive future can arise from a destructive present.  We need the quietness of holy Saturday to see this, and to understand that no one can give us a better future than they are manifesting today.

We also need holy Saturday to see that everything belongs.  If I could persuade you to read one book in the midst of our current turmoil, it would be ‘Everything Belongs’ by Richard Rohr.  In it, Rohr lays out an expansive vision (deep and wide) of what God has had in mind for us from the beginning–what Jesus revealed and restored.  It is a vision of life that emerges from a profound existential union (conjoining heaven and earth, and ourselves with each other)–a vision of life destroyed by egoic partisanship and protectionism.  We need the quietness of holy Saturday to recognize the fatal price we are paying for holding and expressing our pride–a pride that disconnects, divides, and destroys God’s vision of shalom and salvation.

So, today I invite you to spend some quiet in the garden tomb of your heart–a place where in the presence of death you may find a new vision of life that will give you the capacity and the courage to see through the false definitions of life playing out so madly today, and to recover the sight of the Kingdom of God–where the present moment is the seed and sacrament for life, where the Kingdom of God (expressed in the two great commandments) is lived, and where Jesus is Lord, not the many caesars who try to convince us that they are.

About jstevenharper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 31 books.
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