by Linda Ryan
Holy Saturday has come again. It’s always one of those days when I’m not too sure what to think or how to feel about it. Like most Saturdays, the church is quiet and sitting alone except for the flurry of activity of the Altar Guild preparing the altar and flowers for the following day’s services. Other than that, it’s another day in the life of the church, a day when there are no meetings being held in any of the various rooms, no worship being held until the Easter vigil in the evening and a sense of waiting.
It’s the waiting that I think about this Holy Saturday. Recently a number of people that I know have been undergoing the pain of waiting for various things, some of them for the demise of loved ones. It is a release for the dying but it is gut wrenching for those who are waiting. Waiting like that takes a lot out of a person. For one thing, it means the imminent loss of someone very important in their lives. For another, it’s almost being afraid to leave the loved one’s bedside, even for a short break, because it might be just at that moment when the loved one steps from life into a larger world. It’s hard, and even though we know it’s going to happen, we are never really totally ready for it.
I think about Mary, Jesus’s mother, and those who loved Jesus, especially Mary Magdalene and the others who gathered under the shadow that cross and watched as their loved one suffered and died knowing that they could do nothing to prevent or relieve it. It was brave of them to be where they were and to share in what was happening at the that time. It was brave because they were women, and it was unusual for them to be standing in a place of execution for criminals. But in their case, convention, rules, tradition, all went out the window. They needed to be where they were, and I do think that Jesus knew they were there. Maybe in one small part of his brain not consumed with pain and loss, he blessed them for staying with him. It must have been hard waiting, with the sun shining down on them, no benches or chairs to sit on, and is certainly the only ones giving them any sympathy at all were the members of their own small group. Still they waited, just as we in the church wait and watch and pray from Good Friday until we rekindle the light at the Vigil.
For them, the end came and released them from the agony of the deathwatch, but it was so close to sundown that they didn’t have time to prepare the body for burial as they would normally have done. The body was taken down from the cross and quickly whisked away to the tomb where the stone was rolled across it and they could not go in. They had to wait until after the Sabbath was over before they could return to do what needed to be done. So they waited.
Male disciples waited too, in their own way, up in that room where they had last gathered with Jesus and wondered what was going to become of them. They feared that they were known to be Jesus’s followers and, as such, were at risk of arrest and possible crucifixion themselves. So they sat and worried about their own futures and what they should do now that they were leaderless in a hostile environment. The two groups waited, although it was a different kind of wait.
Holy Saturday for most people these days is just a normal day like any other day. We mow the grass, go to the store, go shopping, and watch whatever sport is on TV as a way of rewinding. We are not waiting, we are busy doing things, we go on with life as if nothing important happened or is happening, that is, unless we become one of those who are forced into waiting for something. At that time, we can put ourselves in the same place with the women at the foot of the cross. We’re suffering, and we look up and see one who suffers even more. We look on the face of our loved one and we hope to see the look of peace in the time before their last breaths, but we keep waiting until the inevitable happens. Then, and only then, can we take a deep breath and let the tears roll and we can express our own grief, selfish grief because we have lost something someone precious, but also a joyful time knowing that a loved one has found his or her way out of this world and into the next.
So today is a day of waiting. It’s a day to spend some time contemplating and praying and most of all watching with those who are suffering, whether physically, mentally, spiritually, or emotionally. It may be a day where all of us can join those standing at the foot of the cross and then waiting before the sealed tomb, with faith that in the morning our sorrow be lessened and our weeping will turn to joy.
Carl Holsøe [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Waiting by the Window