Today has been a very quiet day. Starting yesterday, I eliminated all music and TV, although I did listen to Matt Maher’s songs from Alive Again (except “Christ Is Risen;” not until tomorrow) and “The Spirit and the Bride” from The Love In Between. I wanted to focus on Jesus. Working for my church means that I don’t get a lot of time for my own spiritual practices. I try to make good use of what time I do have.
Good Friday gets a lot of credit for being the day of Jesus’ death; as well it should. Holy Saturday is one of my favorite liturgical days, though. It’s very short, matched only by Holy Thursday, since Lent ends at the beginning of the Holy Thursday Mass and Good Friday begins at midnight. Unlike Holy Thursday and Good Friday, though, Holy Saturday is a day with no liturgies at all. Weddings and funerals are forbidden. The Eucharist can only be given to the dying. The Church encourages the faithful to gather in prayer, but even the Liturgy of the Hours comes second to the Mass or the Good Friday Liturgy.
Holy Saturday is a day of watching and waiting. Imagine the apostles and disciples on that first Holy Saturday. They were observing the Sabbath: worshipping at temple, avoiding work, and mourning the great Master and Teacher who had been killed so cruelly and surrounded by such mystery mere hours earlier. Mary must have had a particularly tough day.
Holy Saturday is a day of transition. Traditionally, Christ spent the time between his entombment and the discover of the empty tomb on Sunday in Hell. (Remember, Jewish days begin at sunset, so the women would have arrived at the tomb on Saturday night, right after the Sabbath ended.) At this very hour on that first Holy Saturday, he would have been approaching the righteous souls who died from creation up to that day. What would he have said? How would Adam and Eve, Abraham and Isaac, Daniel and Elijah have responded?
How would you? This reading is from the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday. It is from an ancient homily given on that day, and its author is unknown.
Something strange is happening. There is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.
He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the Cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ Christ answered him: ‘And with your spirit.’ He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.’
I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in Hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I in you; together we form one person and cannot be separated.
For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.
See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.
I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.
Rise. Let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.
I read aloud to myself it every year. Every year, I am determined to meditate, to reflect, and to be open to the Holy Spirit, but not to cry. Every year, I can barely finish without sobbing.
He will soon rise.