I do not often spend time with Holy Saturday. One might call it a professional hazard — sermons never come out before Saturday afternoon, even if I dedicate multiple timeslots to it during the week — but Holy Saturday feels like another Saturday of me begging the Holy Spirit to make my disparate and diasporic thoughts about the sermon passage into something coherent while I stare at the blinking curser, only with the added pressure of Easter and needing the sermon to either hit all the right chords. (No, I never struggle with debilitating perfectionism with my preaching; why do you ask?)
But I have spent a lot of time this year, a weird year where I had the first month of Lent off after a very painful two years of ministry, sitting with a quote from Kate Bowler’s Everything Happens For A Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved (and complaining about the very same thing):
“Everyone is trying to Easter the crap out of my Lent.”
I have never shied away from sitting in the darkness of Lent, always intentionally letting the melancholy and depression of this darkest liturgical season wash over me and resonate with my internal heart song. Lent does not serve the purpose of “Pre-Easter Warmups” and building happy anticipation for candy, bunnies, and flowers for me.
But Holy Saturday, arguably the deepest pit of despair for those who showed their love for Christ most at the end, just kind of means nothing to me. But if I demand that we sit in Lent for all 40+6 Days of Lent, then I need to not just zoom past Day 40.
Scripture gives us painfully little about the day (which probably influences our complete lack of acknowledging it) except the Pharisees begging the Romans to post guards at the tomb to ensure the poor followers of Jesus could not just roll the stone away and steal the body to claim he had risen. I think we can make some educated guesses, though. The men ran away from Golgotha (except John if you trust the account of the guy who made sure to tell you he won the “First Annual Easter Footrace”) and they sat hiding behind locked doors after the Sabbath, so we can assume they ran away from Golgotha and immediately started hiding behind the locked doors.
But the women followed Jesus to Golgotha, they heard the nails enter the wood and the anguished cries, they stood witness to his final breath, they followed him to the tomb, and they prepared their herbs to prepare his body for his final rest. I think we can assume some things about the women and their 36 hours of waiting.
We all know that walk when leaving your beloved after their death; most of us know that walk when leaving a beloved after a sudden, unexpected death, and just how much the suddenness amplifies the nothingness and everythingness of that walk.
You have to consciously think about walking. You have not consciously thought through stepping, even in dangerous or “extreme” situations, more than you do when you leave that hospital room. You have no other conscious thoughts but how to make one foot step in front of the other.
Then you feel all the feelings. Guilt, shame, sadness, anger, frustration, more sadness, laughter and guilt from feeling laughter. It washes over you and you have no conscious thoughts but you feel everything and cannot untangle it.
Then you feel nothing, think nothing, and just float down the hallway. You push a button in the elevator, maybe the right button, and get to the lobby. Then you try to figure out how to get to the parking lot, but you get lost even in the simplest and most well-marked hospital lobby trying to just get outside.
Suddenly you have your keys looking at your ignition. No idea how we got to the car, but suddenly every feeling comes back — or nothing, like God has removed the very heart from your chest. You look at your keys and wonder how you turn the car on, or how you insert the key-fob into your pushbutton-start car.
You start driving home on autopilot. About half-way home the funeral director calls; she cannot meet you tomorrow, but the next day she can. She tells you to find a bunch of things to bring with you: documents, stories, an outfit. So you go home, you get the things together that they need, wondering if you got everything, and then you feel exhausted.
You stare at the ceiling, begging God for sleep. Maybe you do get an hour or two — or sleep fifteen hours and then cannot remove yourself from the bed. You wail at times, feeling so deeply the hurt and pain of the loss that you cannot even move; your wails come from deep within and make your whole body convulse. Then you find yourself staring into space on the couch or into the open refrigerator for minutes that feel like seconds and hours at the same time; maybe you start walking circles around your house in a way you never have before and never will again. You feel and think nothing, not out of numbness but because you cannot process the emotional shitstorm you presently find yourself in the middle of, so your brain chooses nothing over anything.
You do this all day. You swing from wailing to anger to nothing to laughter to guilt to wailing again to saying “At least they didn’t suffer long” to nothing to fury to mania and back again to wailing. You do this dance between nothing and everything all day because you have nothing else to do; you cannot help your friend enter their final rest until tomorrow.
And then you sleep. Or count bumps in the popcorn ceiling they hated and gave you grief about.
That is Holy Saturday. No wonder we do not spend any time on it. But without Holy Saturday, Easter means nothing.
Holy Saturday is nothingness and everythingness, a pendulum of detachment and devastating pain for those who followed Jesus to Golgotha, to the tomb, and promised to prepare him for his final rest.
Will you run and hide, or choose to be with him at his end?