Franciscan Spirit Blog

Our Return to Holy Saturday

Now that Lent has long passed, and Easter celebrations have ended, we return to Holy Saturday, the space in which most of our mental, emotional, and spiritual lives unfold. On summer’s doorstep, in the wake of seeing the earth bloom to life, we are reminded of the coming dryness.

It’s in the mystery of Holy Saturday—between the despair of Good Friday and the hope of Easter Sunday—that we experience an accurate picture of reality: one that is broken but also beautiful; one that is sometimes marked by loneliness and loss but is also woven with love; one where there is darkness yet also divine discovery. As Father James Martin writes in America magazine, “Most of our lives are spent in Holy Saturday. In other words, most of our days are not filled with the unbearable pain of a Good Friday. Nor are they suffused with the unbelievable joy of an Easter. Some days are indeed times of great pain and some are of great joy, but most are…in between.”

Some people get psychologically stuck in the proverbial darkness of Good Friday, perhaps through scapegoating, negativity, victimization, or hopelessness. But it is also easy to mask pain or fear with the victory and conquering narrative that is often preached on Easter Sunday, using “winning” as a band-aid to avoid the darkness or doubt in our lives at all costs. On Holy Saturday, pain is not suppressed; it is acknowledged and dealt with fully. Our frustrations pull us into the throes of waiting, the summer dryness, the desert of unknowing, where we often awaken to who we are. We are carried along by hope, sometimes paradoxically deeper into our pain, further into the tombs of our souls so that something new can resurrect. We discover the depth of our trust.

In his book How (Not) To Speak of God, philosopher Peter Rollins shares a parable about a tribe of early Christians who packed their belongings and found a new home merely one day after Jesus’ crucifixion, dedicating their lives to following in the footsteps of their savior: loving God, serving others, and living simply. Centuries later, a group of Christian missionaries stumbled upon the tribe and shared with them that Jesus had risen from the dead, a shocking revelation to people who had passionately followed the teachings of Jesus without the knowledge of his resurrection. Rollins writes that a great celebration ensued, but the chief of the tribe, with a heavy heart, wandered from the party where he was eventually confronted by one of the missionaries about his sorrow.

“For over 300 years,” the chief explained, “we have followed the ways taught to us by Christ. We followed his ways faithfully, even though it cost us deeply, and we remained resolute despite the fear that death defeated him…”

Writes Rollins: “It is only as we experience Holy Saturday that we can ask whether we should follow Christ regardless of heaven or hell, regardless of pain or pleasure, whether we would follow in the midst of the uncertainty that Holy Saturday brings to our lives. It is only here that we can ask if we have truly offered ourselves to God for no reason other than the desire to offer ourselves as a gift. Faith does not die here, rather it is forged here.”

None of us have seen the resurrected historical Jesus or placed our hands on his wounds, but like the apostles, we have tasted of love, liberation, and beauty, the hope of spring—and now we similarly must trust in that experience. We have seen what love looks like, and now we have a choice, each day, as to whether or not we’ll see through a lens that acknowledges the depth and beauty of our experiences; one that positions our mind to reflect upon how heaven is in our midst; one that inspires a posture marked by love and gratitude. Practically speaking, allowing moments throughout our day to evoke wonder and awe is psychologically healthy, helping us to focus less on our problems and rewire our brains to notice the thousands of gifts each day we get to joyfully open and enjoy.

I often wonder if it is peace that I want more than anything in life. It seems that I’m often in between anxieties. But Holy Saturday gently invites me to see contemplatively in liminal phases. This kind of seeing helps me to remember that I already have “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ” (Ephesians 1:3)—for even in anxiety and uncertainty, the sparrow still glides along, the ocean still sings, laughter still frees, and beer still tastes pretty darn good. Holy Saturday, as Rollins writes, is where faith is forged. It is where I am challenged to gaze more deeply, to see Christ in creation, and to acknowledge beauty in the mundane, in the summer dryness.

As Richard Rohr writes in The Universal Christ, “Any object that calls forth respect or reverence is the ‘Christ’ or the anointed one for us in that moment, even though the conduit might just look like a committed research scientist, an old man cleaning up the beach, a woman going the extra mile for her neighbor, an earnest, eager dog licking your face, or an ascent of pigeons across the plaza.”

Even when life feels uncertain, even when we do not have the well-packaged conclusions we lust and obsess over, there is still so much of grace to taste and to see! Holy Saturday reminds us that amidst the chaos and transition of life, there is no such thing as “just another day.” Resurrection might be a day away. Something miraculous might be right around the corner. Even in the imperfections of life and in the waiting room of faith, Holy Saturday can take us deeper, if we let it, helping us to open our eyes and see that hope—even when victory is uncertain—is already here.

Stephen Copeland


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