It’s Holy Saturday as I write this paragraph, but by the time I publish it another Easter Day will have come and gone again. And life for most of us will probably continue in much the same way, with the same hopes and frustrations and doubts and fears. The joy of Easter Day will be either a diminishing memory or an impossibly distant future hope. Which in many ways is what the experience of Holy Saturday is all about.
Just another day
Holy Saturday—the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday—is perhaps one of the most neglected days in the Christian calendar, which is strangely appropriate given what it represents—a gap or a void rather than anything positive. It is a troubling, confusing day, one which hardly seems part of the Christian experience at all and which therefore struggles to be represented in the church year. It is an unassuming day, not one celebrated with fanfares or flowers. It’s just another day for those trudging along the road to an Easter that sometimes feels like it will never come. Yet it is one I believe we need to rediscover and reinstate as part of the normal journey of faith.
The Dark Night of the Soul
Holy Saturday is a day of remembrance, a day of waiting. It is a day of disappointments, of deferred hopes, of dreams in ruins, of the aching void of grief. A day of darkness, doubt and disappointment, even of despair. It is the day for all those struggling with loss, bereavement, uncertainty, chronic depression or any of the other forms of inner darkness. It is a lightless day when the Sun refuses to rise—the Dark Night of the Soul; the Valley of the Shadow of Death. It is a day in which there seems to be no end in sight, no light at the end of the tunnel; a day when all the former certainties and supports on which life and faith were based have been suddenly snatched away. It is a day which for some can last for months, even years.
Holy Saturday is a day in which hope seems dead and God distant, absent, or worse still an enemy. The writer of Psalm 88, one the bleakest passages in Scripture, knew all too well this experience:
“You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths…
my eyes are dim with grief…
Why, O Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me?
…You have taken my companions and loved ones from me;
the darkness is my closest friend.”
Holy Saturday does not chime with our expectations of the victorious, joyous Christian life; of blessing and intimacy with our loving Father. Yet it is a valid—perhaps a vital—part of the Christian experience; one that most of us will face at some time and which will perhaps do more to shape us in Christ’s likeness than any other. We need to stand with our brothers and sisters who are going through this Holy Saturday experience; for Christ’s sake we dare not shun them, blame them, tell them to pull themselves together, or insist that they should just be happy in Jesus. Christ too has walked through the darkness and dread of Gethsemane and Good Friday; has waited in the tomb of Holy Saturday.
The tomb and the womb
To those who have been in the dark for as long as they can remember, the hope of Easter may seem a distant, even a false and mocking one. Yet it is a certain, unshakeable truth that for all who cling to Jesus, the tomb of death will one day become the womb of new life; however long delayed, day will follow night. Then truly those who walk in darkness will see a great light; on those who live in the land of the shadow of death will the light shine.
Easter, with the glorious hope of resurrection, may be just round the corner, but sometimes it can seem an impossibly long way off. I pray that for all who today stumble in the dark of Holy Saturday, the light of Easter will soon rise.