“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.