There is not much in the way of scriptural account regarding the Holy Saturday. But have you ever wondered what the first Holy Saturday must have been like for those who loved and followed Jesus? Unlike us, who know the end of the Easter story, Jesus’ followers did not on that first Saturday after the crucifixion. Any time Jesus mentioned to them about how he would have to die, the disciples either disregarded it or did not grasp it (Mt. 17:22-23; Mk. 8:31-33; Lk. 18:31-34). His death was not what they had expected or hoped.
After Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples were left rudderless and disoriented. I can only imagine how Peter’s heart must have raged between anger and despair; how Mary the mother of Jesus must have been in agony and desired to hold her son for just one last time. And for the rest too, the first Holy Saturday clearly must have been a day of confusion, desolation, failure, fear and loss. I am assuming, many may have questioned God, why send a messiah, only to kill him?
As we continue to meditate on the Passion of the Lord, I wish to invite you all to put yourself in the place of the apostles or of the women who accompanied Jesus. The death of the Lord is devastating. There is such a finality about Christ’s placement in the tomb. While on the cross, one could still see him and given the numerous accounts of miracles they had witnessed during his earthly ministry, one would expect Jesus to overcome the crucifixion and descend from the cross. But no such thing happened. We know that on the evening after the crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took away the battered, lifeless body of their Lord, wrapped it in strips of linen and placed him in a tomb (John 19:38-42). The believers were bereft, the Messiah who was supposed to bring victory, justice, and peace to Israel, laid dead in the tomb.
The mood of our world today seems to quite resonate with the first Holy Saturday as we witness, day after day, the grieving of God’s people, the fragility of human life, the reality of hunger, the pain of isolation, a global recession that seems inevitable and the endless questions and uncertainties that grips our lives with the invasion of the COVID-19.This is a world that is extremely anxious. While most places of worship are sealed, the prayers of the believers have only grown more fervent. As human costs keep mounting, healthcare system fails to find an antidote, positive cases continue surging, hunger and depression become an equally lethal threat to human lives, even the most hardened hearts are brought to their knees and are found uttering the name of the Lord. Our cries for help are beginning to wear us out, the eyes growing heavy and tired in looking up to God to save the world (Ps. 69:3-4). Once again its beginning to feel like one long Holy Saturday, wherein God has gone into a deep slumber. But hold on, is that really true? We clearly know that this is not the end of the story. In spite of the darkness of the first Holy Saturday event, the death of God in Jesus Christ is at the same time the expression of his radical solidarity with us. It was only through the failure of Good Friday, only through the silence of death of Holy Saturday, that the disciples were able to understand all that Jesus truly was and all that his message truly meant. God had to die for us so that He could truly live in us.
We have a savior who descended into Hades (death’s realm) and conquered it, who bound the strong man and spoiled his goods, who rose and ascended to the throne of glory. And this momentous triumph over the devil and the darkness of death took place while humans thought that God was asleep in the tomb. An ancient homily (Divine Office, vol. II) beautifully captures the significance of the Holy Saturday: Christ repose in the tomb was an active one. Our hope too must be active. We must continue to seek God. We must pray through the emptiness that is Holy Saturday. We must pray into the great silence of Christ asleep in the tomb. Let not the silence and the absence lull us to sleep. Our waiting has an end for Christ is risen.
Holy Saturday is a stark reminder of how uncertainties and fear, absence and abandonment are fundamental aspects of the human experience. Nonetheless, this event also embodies for believers, faith and courage in the face of despair and hopelessness, as we live and experience the redemptive grace of Christ’s resurrection from the death. Let Holy Saturday be a comfort to those who are suffering; let it be a reminder that though we may feel abandoned or suffer from utter despair and helplessness, there is always hope. For just as God was not done back then, even today, God has not abandoned us. We are not alone! Though it feels like the darkness will never break, dawn is coming, for Christ conquered it all. Holy Saturday brings us to a place of Christ’s hiddenness in our lives – the day of concealment. This day helps us to understand that God works out of sight in the depths of our life and with a love that glides lower than the darkness and the death. AMEN
Dr Akumsungla Aier is Assistant Professor of Clinical Counseling at the Oriental Theological Seminary (OTS), Bade, Dimapur. This reflection is the third in a series of articles written for the Holy Week by OTS faculty in partnership with The Morung Express