Holy Saturday:   Waiting and Watching, A Day for our Times - Revd Dr Fiona Haworth

Collect for Holy Saturday

In the depths of our isolation
we cry to you, Lord God:
give light to our darkness
and bring us out of the prison of our despair;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.                                        (Church of England Additional Collects)

 

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 27:57 - 61

The Burial of Jesus

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.                                             (NRSV)

 

Holy Saturday – Waiting and Watching, A Day for our Times
Reflection, Fiona Haworth

What was it like, I wonder, that long ago Saturday when Jesus lay in a borrowed tomb, and his followers waited for the Passover to end so that they could do what was needful and required for the tortured, broken body of their friend by making a proper ending of his life? 

Holy Saturday, or Easter Eve as it is called in our lectionaries, is the day that no one seems quite to know what to do with, theologically.  It has become a day of quiet but busy, anticipatory activity, an Easter equivalent to the last-minute gift wrapping and preparations of Christmas Eve.  Churches are busy; flower arrangers, liberated from their long Lenten rest, in a hum of happy concentration, teams of servers restoring the celebratory altar frontals and hangings to centre stage, priests polishing their sermons and tweaking the service sheets, musicians sorting music and nursing throats, Easter eggs being placed baskets or concealed around the church. 

All is geared towards the joy of Easter.  It has become a day of anticipation of what is to come, rather than a day of quiet reflection and waiting, yet in our imposed isolation as we wait for this crisis to pass, Holy Saturday is perhaps the day we most need now.  It is a day suspended between death and its proper ending, and the reframing of life in the aftermath of loss, a middle space in which normal life is on hold. 

Those first followers of Jesus, caught up in the rapidly unfolding events that led to Jesus’ death, would have been unable to prepare as they usually would for the Passover festival.  The women who watched and waited with Jesus as he died were not engaging in the usual domestic tasks that they would have learned from childhood.  Likely they returned to homes unready, missing vital elements of the meal.  They would not have felt like celebrating anyway.  The question that begins the Passover celebration, asked by the youngest child present, ‘Why is this night different to any other night?’ would have cut like a surgical blade. 

The Passover was the great festival of liberation, marking the release of the people of God from slavery in Egypt.  Their own hopes of liberation had been buried with the man they loved and followed.  He may have forewarned them of his arrest and death, spoken of rising after three days, but there is no sense in the Gospels that these words were believed, not in any literal sense: more perhaps a promise for the end of time.  His death seems to have blindsided everyone.  Why was that night different from any other night?  Because that night saw the burial of their hopes and dreams, and they were trapped in an in between place, unable to properly tend to the body and so begin the formal time of mourning, forced instead to wait with their loss, and pain, and fear and grief. 

After the body was laid in a borrowed tomb, and those present hurried home to enforced idleness, the night and day and night that followed would have been a crushing, slow, and agonising wait.  After the execution of their leader, there would have been the additional fear of the heavy tread of soldiers seeking further victims to serve as examples to any dreaming of a different future.

And so, they waited, expecting the worse, living with the ending of all that they had desired, worked for, turned their lives to building.  They waited through the long hours, numbed by grief, isolated from each other by loss and fear, anxious about what the future would hold.  They waited not even daring to hope for good news, only for the mitigation of bad news, that the one black day with its one public death had contained the perceived threat they might pose.  They waited, pondering if it would ever be possible that one day they might pick up the pieces of the lives they had left behind. 

Looking back, we know that Easter changed it all for them.  But perhaps that long, dark Holy Saturday has hallowed waiting for us.  As we wait and watch the unfolding of the pandemic, helpless in the face of its spread, may our waiting be a holy waiting, ready to accept the worse, the loss of lives, the loss of livelihoods, the loss of proper endings; but trusting that the good that has emerged, the spontaneous reaching out to strangers, the volunteers supporting the NHS, foodbanks and other charities, the selflessness of those who accept the risks to themselves for the sake of others, will all be the foundation of a more caring, compassionate society that allows people and planet to flourish and grow. 

 

Prayer

Loving God,
as your Son lay in a borrowed grave,
his friends grieved, sorrowing for their friend,
and for the ending of the future that seemed so full of promise;
draw close to all those who grieve,
those who watch and wait, scarcely knowing what they wait for,
those isolated and alone.
May they know the comfort of your presence,
and learn to hope for a better world to come.
Bless those whose work places them in danger for the sake of others,
and those who, from the place of their own fear and helplessness,
reach out to others in compassion and love.
Grant us grace to leave this place of darkness with our strength renewed,
and with courage to work for the justice, mercy and peace that are signs of your loving reign. 
Amen.