Holy Saturday-the space between death and resurrection

Published 5:05 pm Thursday, April 14, 2022

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You’ll be reading this in print the day before Easter, perhaps earlier online, so I trust you have not yet eaten all of your Cadbury eggs. Here’s a secret: I’m going to eat all of my candy before Easter, even though today is a day of mourning. In my tradition, we call this day Holy Saturday, the day when the dead body of Jesus rested in that darkened tomb, still shut buy a stone of oppression. I’ve come to truly love this day, a day between the two most significant events in Jesus life, at least as the story is told. We remember his death on Good Friday and we celebrate his resurrection on Easter, but there was a whole day of mourning in between these two events. And we ignore it at our peril!

This is the day when Jesus’s friends would have been sitting in grief, wondering what went wrong. For those disciples, this day would have been the day when they felt the most hopeless. There was no life, no hope, no possibility of continuing the work of Jesus because his life had come to an inglorious end. Eventually, they got together in an Upper Room. There, I imagine that they prayed and cried, perhaps yelled even. All they knew was that Jesus was dead and they had to figure out what would come next in their lives. Little did they know the transformation was just around the corner, but they first had to sit with the pain and sadness of death.

I become frustrated when I see Christians move too fast from Good Friday to Easter. It’s as if the church doesn’t know how to handle terrible feelings, or thoughts of dread, of despair even. Jesus’s death is too hard for Christians to bear and so we so quickly move to celebrating his resurrection. But something of the power of this story is lost when we take away the space between his death and his resurrection.

The church does a terrible job of responding to people’s real feelings of sorrow and pain. I don’t always get it right when I’m offering pastoral care. Holy Saturday teaches us that we don’t have to pretend like everything is OK. It teaches us that there is nothing wrong or sinful with us when we can’t yet see past the death that surrounds us all. And if you remember from Sunday School, when those scared and hurting disciples finally did see Jesus after his resurrection, he didn’t scold them for their fear. He simply offered them his own loving presence.

It never stops feeling strange to me to proclaim resurrection and the defeat of death in a world still saturated by violence and hatred. Tomorrow, while Ukrainians die in the street, and children slowly starve for lack of basic nutrition, we will proclaim resurrection and the defeat of death and we will sing songs of loud jubilation. But let us hold onto the memory of Holy Saturday, for though our Holy Saturday may end, our friends and neighbors may find themselves stuck before Easter’s dawn. Don’t feel bad if this Easter doesn’t feel particularly joyful. God doesn’t expect or demand your joy. The fullness of who you are is all that God desires.

Chris Adams is the rector at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Washington.