something strange

Apr 3, 2021

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.

This is a very old quotation beginning an ancient sermon for Holy Saturday.

This day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday has the atmosphere of an in-between day, a liminal phase between where we are and what we desire. Today the sacraments are not celebrated (until tomorrow’s celebration of Easter begins with Vigil tonight), we feel an inertia, like our lethargy the day after the funeral of one we love.

Something strange is happening.

This day after the crucifixion is referred to in the Apostles Creed: Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell, rose again from the dead on the third day.”

This descent of Jesus to hell, or to the dead, is sometimes referred to in art (and theology) as the “Harrowing of Hell,” the day when Christ journeys to the depths and to the beginning of time to call all who have already died into the kingdom opened by his resurrection.

A few more quotations from this great homily lets the unknown author make the timeless point:

  • He has gone to search for our first parent as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve.
  • At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
  • O sleeper, to awake. 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.
  • For the sake of you, [Adam & Eve] who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.
  • My sleep [on Holy Saturday] will rouse you from your sleep in hell.
  • Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven.
  • I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. 
  • The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

On this in-between day there is a lot happening, all of it outside our limited earthly perception, deeper than our awareness, and only visible to us in glimpses and tastes.

I’m remembering some other times in scripture when God seemed to be sleeping. Think of the boat when his disciples were panicking during the storm on the lake.  I understand the fear in the disciples, but Jesus is surprised and after calming the storm wonders why they were afraid.

Jesus seems to be assuring us, saying to us: even if you think I’m not listening, I am here and I am active therefore there is no reason for you to be afraid.

Now that’s a message I need to hear.

When I struggle to experience Jesus in the midst of the routines and demands of my life this does not mean that Jesus is not present or that he is inactive or uninterested. Instead he is wise to remain hidden since if I did notice him at work, well, to put it bluntly, I’d probably stuff it up by trying to take control.

On this in-between day we experience the reality of our faith-context on earth. Holy Saturday silence reminds us that here on earth we are in a time of waiting for the time of fulfilment (to quote the funeral liturgy) when every tear will be wiped away.

Now also I am reminded that as we wait, we never wait alone. To continue the Dante Divine Comedy references of recent days he (Dante) when journeying to the dead (Hell), through the time of purification and waiting (Purgatory) to the eternal fulfilment (Paradise) was well accompanied at each stage: led by Virgil (through Hell), Beatrice (through Purgatory) and Bernard of Clairvaux (to Heaven).

This companionship on our journey is essential. This is the quality friendship we seek and need here on earth.

Last night I appreciated Bach’s Passion of St. John performed by the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament Choir & Orchestra here in Christchurch. The chorus and chorale that conclude this work is an appropriate prayer for today:

Sleep well, and rest in God’s safekeeping, who makes and end of all our weeping. Sleep well, and on his breast sleep well. The grave that was prepared for Thee, from all our sorrows sets us free, and points the way to Heaven, and shuts the gates of hell. O Jesus, when I come to die, let angels bear my soul on high.

An Invitation:

  • Become aware of the circumstances in your life in which you find it difficult to experience the presence and action of Jesus. Now imagine that while you might be in a storm and unable to see Jesus, he is with you asleep in your boat and you have nothing to fear. Perhaps he is wanting to work with you without you trying to take control?
  • Who do you treasure as your faith-filled companions on your life’s journey with Jesus?
  • Because the only liturgy of the church today is tonight (Easter Vigil), I thought it best that we spend today focussing on the in-between day – then tomorrow’s Lectio will be the Easter gospel. So instead of the usual gospel Lectio you might appreciate the ancient homily for Holy Saturday in this video reflection format (just over five minutes). This homily is one of the readings in the Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours for Holy Saturday.

9 Comments

  1. This second reading in the Office of Readings this morning is one of my absolute favourites. I go back to it several times during this day every Holy Saturday. There is something so deep and so quiet and so still about this day. Since childhood I have sensed an awe of this day. Thank you for this reflection today, Fr John. May God bless you and all our FFF Family with many blessings this Easter season and beyond. In prayer for you all.

    Reply
  2. I struggle living in and between the earthly physical and the heavenly spiritual and sometimes find it difficult to live an authentic bicameral existence.

    Yet that’s who we are body, soul and spirit and I am so grateful John that you take time to reflect for us both literally and figuratively. I pray the Holy Spirit continues to guide you and all of us and wish you and your many readers, fellow pilgrims, the happiest of Easters

    Reply
  3. I particularly like the paragraph “When I struggle to see Jesus…..” and suddenly I didn’t seem so alone anymore. So apt for me today.

    Reply
  4. Beautiful, moving, assuring, in the worfs of Jim Reeves song, this world is not my home I’m just a passing thru.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  5. Thanks,Fr. John for so much contemplation and prayer offered from your heart this Lenten season.
    Was listening to Bach”s Passion yesterday and I’m still holding the last quote from the written form you have penned today.
    Somehow it brought to mind G M Hopkins “let Him Easter in us, be a day spring to the dimness of us, be a crimson – crested east …..
    Enough to keep my heart “on watch” in the stillness of today.
    Blessings on you and all FFF friends.

    Reply
  6. Thank you Father John for the prayers, quotations, readings that have led us gently to this day of Peacefulness and quiet as we await the Rising of Jesus Christ this Easter. Blessings on you and all the FFF friends.

    Reply
  7. My thanks too, John for the Lenten sustenance which came
    faithfully eery morning. . I have often puzzled, during the Creed of the “he descended into hell” and today you have made perfect sense of it. As a child I used to wonder when Jesus “opened the gates pf heaven” how on earth everyone who had been waiting could cram in! The powerful discussion with Adam and all the others puts it all beautifully into context. And tonight we celebrate the glory of the Resurrection! May our Risen Lord bless you and our FFF people this Eastertide!

    Reply
  8. Good afternoon Fr John.
    A wonderful time of peace.
    An Ancient Homily. Thank you.
    As I sit in the tranquility of this restful day I am eternally grateful for your Reflections, Lectio Divina, and the many thought you have shared.
    I thank you for helping me make this Lent – the best ever.
    I am so grateful to you and your team.
    Prayers in Christ.
    SKJ

    Reply
  9. Thank you for your loving reflections given freely to so many. This year I have suffered ill health and each day there has been so many encouraging thoughts to ponder. Today’s meditation is so encouraging, for not only Adam And Eve were restored but all who have died.
    Patricia

    Reply

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