Today is Holy Saturday. It is an odd day liturgically. We begin with Jesus in the tomb, but we end with astonishment at resurrection. As a child and teenager, Holy Saturday felt pointless. Or boring. Good Friday has the passion narrative and fasting and stations of the cross. But we had to get through stupid Holy Saturday before we got the good candy and Alleluias and Easter eggs. Even if we went to the Vigil service, and we often did since I was a server and my mom was in choir, we couldn’t really celebrate Easter until Sunday morning.
I know things differently now. It’s often said that we are an Easter people. That’s true. As Catholics, as Christians, we live into the resurrection. It’s the thing that changed all things. We hope in it and are transformed by it. If we are an Easter people, then we trust and believe and know that death is not the end. Life changes; it doesn’t end. The resurrection takes what we know of this world and breaks it apart, shatters it, reorganizes the pieces, and puts them back together again in a new order of hope, joy, and wonder.
But we don’t get to be Easter people without first being Holy Saturday people. This time I thought was fruitless is actually most fruitful. If we believe the words we profess in the creeds, then divine work is being done on this day. This time between the end of Good Friday services to the lighting of the fire at the Easter Vigil is, in some ways, empty time, waiting to be filled. It is tempting to think God’s not at work here. Revisit the gospels: the disciples were huddled afraid in locked rooms. How could they have felt anything but abandonment and fear? Of course they did. The revolution they had hoped and worked for was buried in a tomb with a giant stone at the entrance. No good could come of this. What could they believe in now?
Over the past few weeks I have seen several memes that faith and fear cannot coexist. I beg to differ. I believe in God deeply; I fear many things. These are not separate parts of myself. They are intimately and complexly related. To shame ourselves into false bravery, especially in the midst of a pandemic, is particularly unhelpful. This may seem like a digression from those disciples huddled together. It isn’t. They had years of experience with Jesus telling them that the world was different. They had seen miracles performed: food multiplied, diseases healed, and, yes, dead raised back to life. They had his stories and parables of God’s abundance and mercy. They had stood in his presence and known things were never going to be the same. There was a before and after.
This is what Holy Saturday is: a wrestling with that before and after. It’s knowing things are different but not quite knowing how. It’s sitting in that discomfort, letting it be, letting yourself learn from it. It’s the paradox of being terrified and faithful all at once. It’s letting the grief do its work when we’d much rather do anything else.
Shaun died in May 2010. The refrain that went through my mind all that summer was: This isn’t the summer you wanted, but it’s the summer you got. The same refrain resounded after Ryan’s death in spring 2017. We imagine ideal situations all the time. We have something we want, but often it falls short. It’s not what we want, but it is what we get. This quarantine time is much the same. It’s nowhere near what we wanted, but it’s what we have.
There is freedom in acknowledging that. It takes the pressure off of forcing things to be different, to be what they aren’t. The scales fall from our eyes and we see what is. Those terrified and anxious followers of Jesus couldn’t foresee the resurrection, even though they’d been told it was coming. They knew who Jesus had been, but they didn’t yet know who he would be. They were in a liminal, holy, thin space.
We are too. We want to rush this process. Sitting at home grows tedious, perhaps. We miss our friends and family. We miss touch. We miss believing we are invincible. We miss so much. But if I’ve learned anything from grief it’s that we don’t get to rush anything. It does its work: sometimes we are active participants, and sometimes we are passive, as it churns away in the backs of our minds and hearts doing the divine work of transforming us.
As Holy Saturday people, we are called to sit here in this space and experience the fear, wonder, awe, terror, and even hope. We are invited to see those men and women followers of Jesus in ways we never have before: as forebears of faith in the midst of fear. We are encouraged to open ourselves to the emptiness of this time and see what it has to say to us. We await, with those disciples, the transformations we know are coming but cannot yet envision.
We believe, even as we fear.