|Tomb by Sieger Köder (contemplativecottage.com)|
Beneath the mask of moveless white
A babbling whisper you shall hear
Of birds and blossoms, leaves and light.
– Charles G. D. Roberts
As I write this, I am cognisant that this post will appear on Good Friday and remain at the head of our blog until Easter Monday. What theme can cover this whole weekend, capturing both the end of Lent and the beginning of Easter? It is a tall order, but perhaps some fruit can be found by splitting the difference and looking at the day that falls in between: Holy Saturday.
Holy Saturday is a unique day in the Christian calendar. It is the only day of the year when holy communion is not consumed (except by the dying); there are not even public church services like on Good Friday. It is a day of silence and waiting, but perhaps the silence is uneasy and the waiting unsure. Good Friday is over; Easter is to come: what are we to make of this day, the day when Christ’s body lay still in the tomb while all Israel took their Sabbath rest? The Second Reading in the Office of Readings for this day is an ancient, anonymous homily, and it too expresses bewilderment:
Something strange is happening―there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.Hell trembles with fear. In the Creed we say that Christ “descended into hell”, but he goes there only to return, and not to return alone. For in the same homily, he addresses those he meets in the realm of the dead:
I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.While all is quiet on earth, salvation is being worked below. Perhaps on this day we can remember and pray for those who are waiting for their Saviour to call them forth from their imprisonment in hell―not the hell of final separation from God that can be freely chosen, but the hell here on earth of addiction, war, hatred, loneliness and slavery; or that place of purification beyond the grave where the dead are being cleansed from their sins. Today when all is still we can remember them to Christ in our prayers, or perhaps we ourselves might be able to bear Christ’s light to them by a phone call, a visit, an apology, a gift of alms, a work of mercy. For Christ wishes no one to remain in hell: he calls all who will to come forth. As he says in the final words of the homily:
The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.