Holy Saturday: The Dark Interval

Holy Saturday is the often forgotten space between the raw wound of Good Friday and the exhilarating vindication of Easter. Growing up in a low-church tradition, this day was a reprieve from the sanctified pornography that posed as a sermon about the detailed medical effects of torture and crucifixion on a human body. Back then, we’d have a communal experience of self-induced horror, and wade into some manufactured regret as we nailed pieces of paper with sins written on them to a big rough-hewn cross. On Saturday, we got to move on. We’d earned it. Since the happy ending of Resurrection was right around the corner, we all could go mow our lawn, or catch a baseball game, or whatever. Holy Saturday wasn’t “holy,” it was just Saturday. It was one last empty space in an already heavily edited Holy Week that gave the nod to Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter alone.

My love for theology, the history of Christian thought, and the classic spiritual practices of the West converged with my eventual migration from the traditions of my upbringing. These forces brought me to a place where the rich beauty of Holy Week was treasured for its power to distill the Christian message into 8 days. These days proclaim our belief in who God is and what God is all about. Moreover, this week immerses us in the power of this faith story to form us as a people who live as partners in what that God is doing for all the Creation. This new point of view meant that Holy Saturday suddenly started to matter to me. My instincts told me this day had to be more than just a warm up for Easter.

Despite the virtual absence of formal liturgy focused on the mystery of this day (our Orthodox cousins excepted), and even taking into account the late evening observance of the Great Vigil in some traditions, the silence and absence of Holy Saturday no longer represents neglect, but a profound embrace of the core apophatic character of any serious theological reflection on the persons and movement of a Triune God.

Under the shadow of Good Friday’s death and dereliction, a profound crisis is presented to us today as we join with Jesus to look into the abyssal absence of God. On Holy Saturday we can rightly say that God in Christ has not only experienced the act of dying, but that God, in Christ, has plunged headlong into death. Here we confront for ourselves the paradox that the Everliving One is dead. We ourselves must wrestle with the absence of our Maker, Redeemer, Source and Friend. We now must struggle with the disruptive possibility of the loss of the One in whom we live and move and have our being. As Joan Chittister reminds us, we cannot afford to simply go about our business waiting for Exultet of The Great Vigil to pierce the darkness of Easter Eve. No. This day demands that we leave aside our love of winning, and our privileged avoidance of suffering, our immature refusal to inhabit the paradoxes of life, and our desire to impose religious certainties where they actually do not obtain for the sake of existential security that is founded on a domesticated, predictable deity of our making.

On Holy Saturday we discover the healing truth that God has inhabited death and eternally remains as much there as in the impending resurrection. In Holy Saturday we learn that, rightly understood, the experience of the absence of God is as potent an experience of God as his shining presence. The wounded longing of this Dark Interval takes us up into the wounded longing of the Son. Via negation and absence we come to know the pervasive reciprocity of the Trinity that is graciously extended to a redeemed humanity. Namely, through our own desperate and demanding cries that assert relationship, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit confirm there is no place where we can flee from their presence, there is nothing that can separate us from the Love that they are. This is the sacred and terrible conundrum of Holy Saturday.

This Dark Interval invites us to proclaim our love for the defeated, and our humble embrace of suffering, our keeping company with the ambiguity of the human experience, and our hope filled and faithful attentiveness to our ambivalence and fears for the sake of knowing the unshakeable consolations of a God who recklessly occupied death so that even there we may never be without him. 

This moment points the people of God to move into the forgotten and forsaken places of failure, conflict, and dereliction around us. Holy Saturday points the people of God to move into the forgotten and forsaken places of failure, conflict, and dereliction around us. Click To Tweet

The absence of God gives shape to the character of the unrestrained presence of Christ in the world via The Church. That is to say, we ourselves become an open and living space that refuses any boundary or limit so that when wandering and broken humans cross the thresholds of a thousand different kinds of death they simply find Christ in his people already waiting with the healing solidarity of the God who has refused every boundary and limit, who has gone before us and inhabits all things, who fills all things through his Church, even death itself.

It is God’s absence that forms us to be God’s presence.