“What in the World Is Going on Today”: A Holy Saturday Reflection

My friend Paul Johansen has been sharing daily devotionals with the congregation of Good Shepherd Community Church in Scarborough, ON during this Lenten season of social distancing.  He’s given me permission to share his reflection for Holy Saturday.

Christians argue that the rhythms of grace expressed and enacted in the liturgical calendar give us a reliable place to go as we journey on. The key seasons and events of our faith give us solid ground for nurturing our perspective and faith is the point. For instance, Palm Sunday’s ironic, parody of a humble royal parade exposes and mocks the power and arrogance of political empire. Good Friday brings us face to face with evil, injustice and suffering in this fractured world. Easter Sunday reminds us that God’s surprising ways defy our ongoing attempts at “modeling” for the traceable, predictable lives that we find ourselves desiring above all – we don’t like interruptions! 

If there is a glitch at all in the help offered by the Christian calendar, it might just be Holy Saturday.

I don’t know what your usual practice is on Holy Saturday, or if you have ever really thought much about this day between Good Friday’s crucifixion shock and Easter’s full out celebration. According to the staging of scripture there isn’t really much to do. The gospel passages that rub up against Saturday are the short burial descriptions. These passages are sort of caught in between the major events of cross and empty tomb, but you might want to read them to refresh yourself in an important step in the story. Each gospel writer adds a detail or two. Matthew tells about a conspiracy theory. Luke makes the point that Saturday was the Sabbath and so what was left of the Jesus community rested.

When I try and think back over years of Holy Saturdays what comes to my mind – maybe a bit off in terms of mood and energy after a long Holy Week, under planning and staying home, early yard work, golf on TV, groceries for Sunday lunch, finishing off the last bits of an Easter sermon. Overall, pretty uneventful. On a couple of occasions, I have attended an Easter vigil service and on one Holy Saturday service I was the guest preacher. (Anglicans and Catholics always seem to know what to do with the down times!)

So the question, which arises from the sequence of the text is what was Jesus’ community doing on that Saturday in between these two dramatic events? First, they were undoubtedly in shock and in grief and on the way to profound disappointment – just beginning to experience the death of their commitments and dreams. Second, they were living the unknown, the in between, in the “where is this nightmare taking us” zone.

Holy Saturday is a quiet day in the sequence. It is a kind of pause. And this year might be the year that Holy Saturday rockets to the top of the liturgical charts because of how it kind of pauses us and leaves us alone so we have to stare down and deal with the human catastrophe that we are facing. Rarely do we get this opportunity, absent of the filled in distractions of the pomp and circumstance of busy calendars, to quiet our hearts and become still in the presence of things. In some sense, Holy Saturday’s uncluttered, restful sabbath way has become our “new normal” – days with a little more time than usual to think and feel deeply about important and troubling things.

When I think about pausing in reference to our present situation, one scripture has emerged for me above several others. For me, it is a true Holy Saturday scripture:

The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him. ~ Habakkuk 2:20 

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