|The Harrowing of Hell|
On Holy Saturday we enter into the mystery. Today we contemplate Jesus, there in the tomb, dead. In that tomb, he is dead, exactly the way each of us will be dead. We don't easily contemplate dying, but we rarely contemplate being dead. I have had the blessed experience of being with a number of people who have died, of arriving at a hospital shortly after someone has died, of attending an autopsy, and of praying with health sciences students over donated bodies in gross anatomy class. These were powerful experiences because they all brought me face-to-face with the mystery of death itself. With death, life ends. Breathing stops, and in an instant, the life of this person has ended. And, in a matter of hours, the body becomes quite cold and life-less -- dramatic evidence, to our senses, that this person no longer exists. All that is left is this decaying shell that once held his or her life.
Death is our ultimate fear. Everything else we fear, every struggle we have, is some taste of, some chilling approach to, the experience of losing our life. This fear is responsible for so much of our lust and greed, so much of our denial and arrogance, so much of our silly clinging to power, so much of our hectic and anxiety-driven activity. It is the one, inevitable reality we all will face. There is not enough time, money, joy, fulfillment, success. Our physical beauty and strength, our mental competency and agility, all that we have and use to define ourselves, slip away from us with time. Our lives are limited. Our existence, in every way we can comprehend it, comes to an end. We will all die. In a matter of time, all that will be left of any of us is a decomposing body.
Today is a day to soberly put aside the blinders we have about the mystery of death and our fear of it. Death is very real and its approach holds great power in our lives. The "good news" we are about to celebrate has no real power in our lives unless we have faced the reality of death. To contemplate Jesus' body, there in that tomb, is to look our death in the face, and it is preparation for hearing the Gospel with incredible joy. That we are saved from the ultimate power of sin and of death itself comes to us as a great relief, as a tremendous liberation. If Jesus lives, you and I will live! The mystery of death, which we contemplate today, will be overcome - we will live forever!
|The Harrowing of Hell|
Holy Saturday: once more we experience the silence and stillness of this ‘time out of time’ when earth awaits the Resurrection. It seems so bleak: there are no sacraments, no light, no warmth, and we can do nothing. It is as though life itself were suspended; yet it isn’t. This is the day when God alone acts, powerfully, redemptively. This is the day of God’s unseen activity, the Harrowing of Hell. Tonight the darkness will be shattered for ever and heaven and earth unite in one triumphant blaze of glory and new life. Christ will rise, never to die again. We shall be one with the events of two thousand years ago and all our sin and shame will be seen in a new guise as ‘a happy fault, the necessary sin of Adam,’ and we shall know ourselves loved as never before. Our Redeemer will be with us.
(2017 reflection from iBenedictines here)
Walking in Darkness - The Evangelical Liberal
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.
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.
Learning to Wait In the Dark: A Holy Saturday Reflection
Holy Saturday reminds me that one has to learn how to be Christian. When I first came to Christian faith, the day meant nothing to me. It was the blank day between the high dramas of Good Friday and Easter, the day when nothing happened. Jesus was dead and buried. Everyone had gone home to get some rest. In the morning he would rise triumphant from the grave but meanwhile there was nothing to do. The church service — if there was one — lasted no more than fifteen minutes. It seemed rude to go shopping after that, or to check the movie listings. So I puttered the day away, rattling around the house doing nothing much while the clock ticked toward Easter. Holy Saturday was a placeholder, an empty set of parentheses, a waiting room for a train that would not come until morning.
.................Sometimes I lay down on a pew, which was how I began to imagine Jesus lying on a stone ledge in the dark. I had been to Jerusalem, so I knew how tombs looked in those days: low holes in rock walls, with narrow bunks inside to hold the dead bodies until the flesh on them was gone and the bones could be gathered up for safe-keeping.
That was where Jesus spent Holy Saturday: in a dark hole in the ground, doing absolutely nothing. It was the Sabbath, after all. His friends had worked hard to make sure he was laid to rest before the sun went down. Then they went home to rest too, because that was what they did on Saturdays. Once it was clear that there was nothing they could do to secure their own lives or the lives of those they loved, they rested in the presence of the Maker of All Life and waited to see what would happen next.
Though Christians speak of “witnesses to the resurrection,” there were no witnesses. Everyone who saw Jesus alive again saw him after. As many years as I have been listening to Easter sermons, I have never heard anyone talk about that part. Resurrection is always announced with Easter lilies, the sound of trumpets, bright streaming light. But it did not happen that way. Whatever happened to Jesus between Saturday and Sunday, it happened in the dark, with the smell of damp stone and dug earth in the air. It happened where no one but him could talk about it later, and he did not talk about it — at least not so anyone could explain it to anyone else.
That is what Holy Saturday has taught me about being Christian. Between the great dramas of life, there is almost always a time of empty waiting — with nothing to do and no church service to help — a time when it is necessary to come up with your own words and see how they sound with no other sounds to cover them up. If you are willing to rest in this Sabbath, where you cannot see your hand in front of your face and none of your self-protective labors can do you one bit of good, then you may come as close to the Christ as you will ever get — there in that quiet cave where you wait to see how the Maker of All Life will choose to come to you in the dark.
Laurence Freeman OSB - Holy Saturday
A day of transition. Of choosing between patience and restlessness. Of ‘waiting in joyful hope’ or of anger at loss of control.
I told someone recently of a mutual friend who was ‘in transition’, meaning they were at one of those in between periods of life. The person I was telling looked shocked and utterly taken aback. ‘I would never have thought..’ they started to say. As we could say ‘in transition’ of ourselves or of anyone on pretty well any day or in any phase of life, I was surprised by their response. Then the misunderstanding crept out of the corner where all misunderstandings hide. By ‘in transition’ they thought I meant gender change.
This would indeed be a major transition, filled with fear, hope and anticipation by whoever feels compelled to undertake it. But, in fact, the transition of Holy Saturday for the patient Christian is not less. When we reflect on what is happening deep down in the earth, out of sight, far out of reach of the dualistic mind we see an irreversible, evolutionary change is underway. Having crossed the valley of death, Jesus dives deep into all the layers of matter and consciousness from which the human has arisen, through all the stirrings of planetary and cosmic consciousness.
Icons illustrate this as the ‘descent into hell’, the nether regions that remain untouchable and unknowable to the ordinary functions of the human mind. They are alien to what we think of as civilisation. Reaching this deep mind of creation, Jesus – and perhaps all who die – touches the source where it is also seen as the point of return. In every cycle there is a turning point, where yin transitions to yang and in time yang yields to yin. In every journey there is a point where we shift imperceptibly from being the one who left to one who is arriving.
Hamlet peers into this journey over the event horizon ‘from whose bourn no traveller returns’. What if one traveller does return? What if that unity that allows us to speak of humanity as a whole, not just as a mass of individuals, were to be touched and gathered into one who makes this journey not just for himself but with and, compassionately, for us? What would that say about our life on the daily surface, about the unity of the human family unity and about the meaning of death, our final finality?
It would be worth waiting patiently for, just to see. We would need patience for the coming of that moment of consciousness, called the vision of faith, where we see that the return has happened because it is happening. To rise from this depth would be more than a transition to another point on the spectrum. It would be a complete transformation, a bridging of opposites, the conquest of fear. Not less, in fact, than a new creation. While still going through the cycles of life, we would be already sharing in the mind of the one who returns, seeing through his eyes. We would feel as if – along with all humanity before and after us – that we were, finally, waking up.