One of my favourite memories of Holy Saturday is part of a weekend spent out at a local retreat centre that sadly no longer exists. Families, couples, and singles gathered to spend the Triduum together. They were greeted at the door on Holy Thursday by my clown alter-ego Violet who handed each person a single nail to hold for the weekend. She reappeared throughout the weekend and her final task would be to do a liturgical dance to Was It A Morning Like This by Sandi Patty. To prepare for this, I crept into the darkness of the empty tomb that the team had set out so that people could pray. We had invited people to silently wait there throughout the day. I stretched out on the floor and closed my eyes. The door was closed and I tried to imagine what Saturday was like for Jesus and for those who loved him. While I do not remember exactly what graces I received, I do know it was profound. The next morning, which I will mention later, I became almost completely undone by honouring this holy day.
We are often too busy on Holy Saturday preparing for Easter festivities to appreciate the silence and emptiness of that tomb. We fill our lives up at the best of times, fleeing from whatever is calling for our earnest attention. We may spend Lent avoiding chocolate but most of us refuse to crawl into that empty tomb to avoid what we really need to face. I think Jesus would want us to eat chocolate and instead figure out why the sweet is a disordered attachment in our lives. I stopped giving up meaningless things for Lent some time ago unless I was prepared to dig deep enough to figure out why they had more control in my life than I did. At the end of the 40 days, I hoped then they would be gone forever or whatever was the source of the addiction or numbing would be identified and a plan of action in place to be free. Jesus did not come to have us stop eating sweets for 40 days. He came to free us from what binds us. That is what these 4o days are about. Holy Saturday is a good day to reflect on how well I have done in my Lenten journey. Am I going to be rising freer than I was 40 days ago?
Today, I went for a quiet walk in a nearby park and reveled in the sun, warmth and beauty of the afternoon. Because Easter is late this year, it is easy to feel the whole earth rejoicing at what will come. The bright colours of freshly sprouted flowers splashed joyously throughout the park, infectious giggles from Mother Nature. Butterflies were copious, dancing overhead and fluttering their wings in the warm rays. The green head of a mallard glinted as the creature coasted down the river and then came back, I am sure paddling madly against the current though looking serene. A nuthatch skipped up the side of a tree and scooted around behind the trunk as if it were playing hide and seek with me. The world is alive in all its glory and so am I, I thought. I have been blessed with another Triduum and I do feel freer having worked through some of my attachments.
As I think of the empty tomb this year, I am aware of how the silent waiting can be a fear-filled place. I am sure that the disciples behind bolted doors, in their own beds that night, or during their first waking moments must have been weighed down with anxiety, sorrow, and fear. What now? What will happen now? I have taught myself these past few years to remain in the moment and to be present to the emotion that visits without trying to slam the door on those that I dislike. This is not always easy. I think one of the reasons that I liked my surgeon is that he was so brutally honest and that is how I am with myself as much as I can be. I however do not spend each day waiting to die. I spend every day grateful to be alive. That makes the waiting a much less stressful task.
This morning as I read my last entry from one of my Lenten practices, I was struck by this quote:
This is the realism of Christian faith, to know the end is coming, as no one escapes death. We can choose to live in fear and allow selfish concerns to dominate us, or live thankfully, offering hospitality, kindness, and love to others, with whom we share a common mortality. ~ Kathleen Norris
Norris nails it–we can choose to live in fear but wouldn’t we rather live in love? Love was nailed to the tree for us and laid in a tomb so that we might understand the Mystery that Love is greater than fear, death, sorrow. None of us leave this world alive. I want to exit this beautiful orb a much better person than I am currently. If we take a moment this Holy Saturday to be still and to empty ourselves of the selfish concerns that control us, we might be ready to be kinder, more grateful, and loving to those we encounter, including our deepest, darkest selves. Can we understand that in the waiting and the not-knowing-anything-for-sure we receive a great gift? While we are transforming and getting ready to rise anew this Easter, can we trust that God has worked deep within us to free us of what binds us?
Violet got up early that Easter Sunday morning and hid. As she finished dressing and put on the final touches of her make up, she could hear the unsuspecting people gather in the chapel. She took a moment to pray that this surprise dance would be a blessing. She breathed deeply and centred herself. She opened the door so that she would enter at the front of the chapel behind the altar; this was the cue for someone to turn on the music. As she took her first step out, she told herself, Just remember, you don’t know He is alive yet. Suddenly she was overcome with great emotion. All of the events of that weekend had been rich and precious, leading to a new understanding of what Jesus had done and what Easter morning truly meant. She hovered over the threshold of the door, wanting to step back into the sacristy and weep. A little boy who sat in the pew spotted her and looked up at his dad and simply said: Daddy, clown sad. Poor Violet almost completely broke down right there as she looked into his sorrowful eyes. As is often true in our own lives, sometimes, we cannot go back but only onward. Violet stepped out to the lilting tune and brought most of the congregation to tears as she danced. Her movements told the story, as she began hunched in sorrow, then raced to the tomb, and emerged eventually from it holding the burial cloths triumphantly, her smile lighting up the room. This would be her finest performance.
Every day brings each one of us closer to death. I do not want to stay fixated on the small things that keep me from being free. I want to work on what makes me more recognizable as a child of the Resurrected Christ. I want to sprout forth hope, peace and love. I want to pull out fear, anger and judgment that like weeds kill the goodness. As did Violet, I want to concentrate on what may be my finest performance. I think what was magnificent about that day was that Violet had practiced endlessly for her dance, but God surprised her and used her to show how sorrow is transformed to joy–how death does not have the final say. God does not abandon us but rather, when we trust, takes us beyond what we ourselves can only dimly imagine to a glorious place that blesses us and others.
Rest in this holy, silence of Saturday. Let the emptiness of it help you to let go of all that you still cling to and prevents you from being free. Sunday is coming. Rise, children, rise!
What can you learn today from your Lenten experience by spending some time in silence in the tomb?
How do you choose to live–in fear or gratitude?
Jesus, show us how to lay in the tomb and arise unencumbered, free to be who we really are. We take a step closer to death each day, but you call us to live fully, embracing whatever comes. In the silence teach me to be more gentle, humble, loving, and kind. Break the fetters of fear! Let us rise, Resurrected One, and join you in the glory of praise due. Amen.