“On Holy Saturday, the Church waits at the Lord’s tomb in prayer and fasting, meditating on his Passion and Death and on his Descent into Hell, and awaiting his Resurrection.”
Today’s theme is silence. Broken, battered and bloodied, the body had been taken down from the cross and had been placed in the tomb; it was over. All the great hopes, all the expectations; these had dwindled to a handful of frightened men and women holed up in Jerusalem, hoping that the authorities would be satisfied with the death of Jesus. The Romans had mounted a guard on the tomb. God had not come to the aid of Jesus. Those who had always been a bit sceptical seemed to have been right. Peter, who had spoken so bravely, had, when the time came for action, denied Jesus thrice before the cock crew. Yes, it was over. Time to get back to life as usual; it had been but a dream.
The parallel with our secular world is all too plain. God? We note only His absence; He is dead – we killed Him. Does that ‘us’ include those who confess His name? To what extent have we conspired in killing Him? Imprisoned in antiquated modes of thinking; confined to a particular form of worship; contained within approved modes of piety; unwitnessed to in the lives we say we devote to Him; the disregard of the love He preached in our hatred for each other, and our dismissive attitude, even to our co-religionists, let alone to those who worship Him in ways we do not. The flatness, the uncertainty, the want of faith shown in that first Holy Saturday, all that reflects our own world.
The Creed tells us that He ‘descended into Hell’. Sheol, as the Jews called it, or Hades in the Greek of the New Testament, should not be confused with what the Church means by ‘hell’. It was the land of the dead, the Hades we see in Luke 19, the place where all the dead, good and bad, rested, awaiting the opening of the Gates of Heaven. The parallel with this world is striking. But on that first Holy Saturday, unseen by the world, the miracle happened. The Gate that had been closed was opened.
That is the message to us all, now, Christian and non-Christian alike. The icy emptiness of the tomb which can grip us, and which can force us into an attitude of defensiveness, melts during that miracle. God is not absent. We have been absent. On that terrible Saturday evening the disciples cowered behind barred doors, living in fear of being identified as followers of Jesus. Only the love of the Holy Women took them out, before dawn, on that Sunday morning. We cannot know what fear gripped them as they set off, only that love triumphed over it. What they would encounter as the result of that love would change their lives and the lives of those fearful men back in Jerusalem, and then, through them, the world would be changed. What reward will our love bring us?
The disciples had never quite understood Jesus, and that led them to hide away upon His death, although He had told them He would rise again. Through the darkness and through the silence, the Light that lighteth the World, came to dispel the terrors of the night and to offer hope to all. As we watch and wait, let us remember that the darkest night ends, and that, the darkest of all nights, ended with the lightest of all mornings. As we journey, it is to Emmaus, and He is with us, even to the end of all things.