something strange

Apr 16, 2022


“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 feeling of an in-between day, a liminal time 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 the lethargy in the weeks after the death 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.

I appreciated this audio visual presentation of the Homily, which is also shared in today’s Office of Readings.




  1. This is a beautiful reflection. Thank you

  2. A most comforting thought provoking reflection Father John. It has given me much to ponder on during this time of waiting. God Bless

  3. Thank you again Father for your inspired sharing x

  4. Thanks John: hope and meaning into Holy Saturday

    Those images / icons of Jesus going DOWN after his resurrection are telling

    Rather than disappearing up, Jesus risen comes down to free us…

  5. Thank you Father John for these reflections through this Lenten period. This Holy Saturday period when ” he descended into Hell” is I’m sure not a well taught part of our Catholic Teaching speaking from my own experience of course. This ancient sermon goes a long way In explaining Holy Saturday to me.
    Thank you again Fr John and have a Holy Easter

  6. A day of silence- reflecting and waiting
    A call to action – rise up!
    A promise – of a time of fulfilment, when every tear will be wiped away.

    Thanks for creating this opportunity to engage in a multi-sensory reflection… and to then experience a renewed awareness that:
    “I who am life itself am now one with you.“

  7. Thank you John for sharing thoughts on this different kind of Saturday. The video is compelling liturgy as it not only glorifies God but also sanctifies humanity. The work of the artists (art, music and spoken word) makes knowable Jesus Christ revealed as the fullness of Truth. This beautiful liturgy fills our senses and lifts us up in prayer. Well worth taking 5 mins of stillness with this today.

  8. What a lovely way to start the day … the Youtube video is a treasure, beautiful and moving art. I hadn’t read/heard the homily before, what a loss! Thank you Fr John for introducing it, along with the many funny, quirky, thoughtful views of our wonderful faith.

    Many Easter blessings to you.

  9. I thought one day, as I was walking home, that “Silent Night” could be used to express the tragedy and triumph of Easter.
    So, I’ve given new words to the wonderful tune, hoping to capture the changing emotions wrought by the greatest miracle.

    Song for Good Friday Night

    Silent night, woeful night
    Dark victorious over Light
    Despair and hopelessness spring bitter tears
    Loss and abandonment kindle deep fears
    Jesus died on the cross
    Jesus died on the cross.

    Silent night, woeful night
    Evil triumphed over Right
    Friends who’d followed the Master throughout
    Now hiding fearfully, riddled with doubt
    Jesus lies in the tomb
    Jesus lies in the tomb.

    Song for Easter Morning

    Blessed night, holy night
    Angels guard empty site
    Hope rekindling, slow but sure
    Building faith that will ever endure
    As it was written – Amen!
    As it was written – Amen!

    Blessed night, holy night
    All is changed, all is right
    Glories stream from Heaven afar
    Heavenly hosts sing Hallelujah
    Jesus is risen indeed!
    Jesus is risen indeed!

    • Thank you for your words to the Easter version of ‘Silent Night’. ‘Heavenly hosts sing Hallelujah’ so appropriate, as the
      Risen Christ at Easter forfils the purpose of the Incarnation at Christmas. Have a joyous Easter.

  10. Richard
    What a lovely song , I will play that on my Guitar on Sunday morning.
    The words gather how we should always remember on a bad day there will always be a good day that will see us through.
    Thank you Richard.
    Thank you Fr John . God Bless you all.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Latest Posts

living abundantly

living abundantly

I’m in Auckland this week offering sessions for anyone who is interested. I hope to see you. Share the word and bring a friend.

moving ahead

moving ahead

The discipline of daily writing keeps me alert to the presence and action of Jesus in my life every day.

the seekers

the seekers

If the Magi had settled for seeking creature comforts, they would never have encountered the Lord.

truth seeking

truth seeking

A faith that is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ is adult and mature. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good

a conversation

a conversation

a podcast conversation between Siân Owen RSJ, Merv Duffy SM & John O’Connor