Arriving at the emergency room, we were so rushed with the hustle and bustle of nurses and questions, my grieving, shocked, tear-stained brain never really processed where we actually were waiting. Looking about, it was a dingy, triangular-shaped room, with dusty corners, peeling paint and my loving husband sitting silently beside me. An hour and a half went by, then another, as we waited and sat, waited and held our breath — barely speaking, waiting and wondering if our dear baby, only 15 weeks old, was still alive.
My body had just hemorrhaged for the past two and a half hours, so the doctors naturally assumed I was miscarrying. Being the stubborn optimist God created, I insisted on an ultrasound anyway, figuring I would rather see his or her body in utero one last time. And so, shaking their wise, academic, practical heads, the medical staff had us sit in the dimly lit room and wait until a machine became available.
Lying on a gurney, wrapped in three stiff, white hospital blankets, I shivered. My imagination wondered then if this was what a tomb was like from the inside, as He laid there dead, before Jesus descended into hell or the glory of Sunday morn. My own womb, too, felt like a tomb, as I felt my bulging belly, as my shaken soul sobbed.
And then I thought of Mary. Grief-stricken, processing the events of the barbaric horrors of the day before, she sat Shabbat that Saturday with the other women and disciples of Jesus. For her, too, it was a day of waiting. Of prayer, of quiet, of her mind reeling with the new reality, that her Son, the long-awaited Messiah, the gentle, holy Rabbi, her first-born child, was dead. She had seen everything firsthand, held and felt His limp body and her wet tears as they wrapped Him in linen cloths like she did when He was a swaddled baby, pouring on precious myrrh on His battered, bloodied body.
This is what Holy Saturday celebrates, a day of silence, of waiting beside the tomb, the quiet calm of mourning and weeping. The day is between the torturous suffering clamor of Jesus’ passion and crucifixion on Good Friday and the amazing glory of the life-changing Resurrection of Easter Sunday. A key lot of the Triduum, the three days the Church celebrates as one, the time between the end of Lent and the greatest holy day of Easter, Holy Saturday is often overlooked and forgotten. However it is the day where many of the faithful actually live themselves, day in and day out, as their own lives unfold a repeated Paschal Mystery. A day of quiet beauty, silence and simply sitting by the Lord’s side, mourning their loss by the side of the tomb. Anyone whose heart has ached knows well a Holy Saturday.
Culturally, in America, Holy Saturday’s liturgical beauty gets pushed aside for celebrations and premature Easter parties, for early egg hunts and photos with a random rabbit. As fun as those festivities might be, they forget quickly the needed day of rest, the fullness of the Triduum and gift that Holy Saturday is. A time for introspection, passed over for the Easter extroversion and excitement. Holy Saturday is necessary for the full reality of the Resurrection to exist. What butterfly can transform and emerge before completing the cocoon phase of life?
After the intense Holy Week and Passiontide that Jesus lived, a day to wait and grieve, to wait and pray, to wait and be, is needed. Some very real, everyday parts of our own lives are stuck on a “Holy Saturday” for months. The COVID-19 social distancing shows us the need for active waiting and participating that occurs in the silent tombs of our own Holy Saturdays. They can be times of forgetting what just happened or times of pondering, prayer and final preparation for the amazing resurrection to come.
We need time to process our grief, to acknowledge the huge losses, to weep with our families, to cry and mourn the life we thought was to happen. The disciples did as well. The future they imagine was not the hope hung on the cross. Otherwise, the next day, the greatest day of triumph and victory in the history of our God, won’t resound. The glory of the open tomb, the cloth laid aside, the new life miraculously found, won’t shine as bright in our souls.
Living well, living fully Holy Saturday, might sound funny to our neighbors when we don’t join in the local egg hunt and dress in our Sunday best a day early, but it will heal our hearts, open a space for our souls to rest and prepare our ears for when we hear the glorious words of the Alleluia proclaimed the next day. Celebrating the liturgical life of Christ with the Church isn’t just on the high notes of Alleluia at Easter, but also on the quiet, waiting, gray days of Holy Saturday. Personally, my soul never rejoiced more to hear a clear pitter-patter of a heartbeat on a Doppler than after waiting the hours with Jesus beside the tomb.
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