A couple of decades ago I was on a retreat team that hosted a Holy Triduum weekend. The event ended up being one of the most profound experiences of my life. We created a rich and powerful journey for the participants who ranged in age from infant to elderly. Also on the team was my clown alter-ego, Violet, who greeted each guest with a large nail. She ended up making several appearances throughout the retreat. We began with Holy Thursday and the washing of the feet. Good Friday we added a Taize-style veneration of the cross where people could spend as much time as they wished with the prostrate wood, laying their head or hands on it. Holy Saturday we created an empty tomb so that people could go inside the darkness and wait. That is where I went so that Violet would be fully ready for her performance early the next morning.
I lay down upon the floor in the small room at the back of the chapel, allowing the darkness to envelope me. I wanted to get in touch with what had happened in the day proceeding for Jesus so that when Violet did her liturgical dance, she would take all that knowledge with her. I replayed in my head Maundy Thursday and Good Friday’s events, letting the words of the liturgy settle into my soul. I imagined Christ here in this space, throwing off the burial linens and laughing with great joy. Death had no victory! Yet it was not over. He would descend into hell. I tried to picture that moment but wrestled with images. I was not yet trained in Ignatian contemplation.
I chose instead to settle in on how it felt for the disciples and Mary, each in their own tomb. I could feel their pain, disappointment, and disbelief. Now what? I let those emotions run through me. He is dead. Good and dead, as a friend said to me in an early morning text today. I have come back to those words a few times today….good…..sinless, compassionate, merciful, kind….not what was meant but what I keep hearing today. Good…and dead. Killed. Crucified. Pierced with a sword. Good and dead. Ain’t no way he is coming back. Or at least that is what people thought. Those poor disciples! Their dreams shattered in a million pieces. Their master shamed and framed. He did not even put up a fight but seemed to go willingly. What had happened? This was not what they had envisioned.
In the quiet tomb decades ago, I realized fully how great the price he paid. For me. So that I do not end up in hell. So that I may join the Resurrected Christ in Heaven forever. The next morning, as Violet slipped through the door, the words Remember he is dead came. I had to stop myself from sobbing. The music had begun and I could not stop to recompose myself. On with the show, as they say. The retreat house director’s toddler son’s voice could be heard over the music: Daddy, clown sad. Clown sad. I almost lost it again and yet as if I were not in my own body, I danced my way to the tomb and slipped inside. When I came out again, I held high the empty linens, beaming with joy.
I have spent this Holy Saturday doing nothing but sleeping and resting in silence. I have remembered what Christ is doing before tonight’s Easter Vigil, the high point of the Catholic Church. I have recalled my experience in the tomb from that retreat. I have thought about my own in-between experience of waiting for my resurrection. I wait without knowing when that will be but grateful that I have a Saviour who has prepared the way for me.
Holy Saturday is often busy with Easter preparations. How have you spent this day?
How do you envision Jesus spending this day?
What are you grieving this Eastertide?
Waiting is never easy. Grieving is near impossible. Show us the way as someone who knows. You waited in the garden. You grieved for your friends. May we take up our cross with courage and walk. Amen.