When I was in college – when Facebook profiles still fit on one page and I tended toward a bleaker spirituality – my religious views on Facebook read: “We live in a Holy Saturday.” My point, I think, was to highlight the “already-not-yet” nature of Jesus’ beloved community, the waiting and unsureness we all feel when we are seeking God in the world. Today, it would be more accurate to say I believe we migrate through Holy Saturday, again and again, as part of our wrestling with the Divine. And right now, I think, many of us are camped in Holy Saturday, waiting, alone, not sure how to be hopeful.
I’ve often imagined what it would have felt like to be one of the women who followed Jesus, waiting for a whole sabbath day to anoint his body, sitting observantly still on the outside but tangled with fear and confusion and shock within. I’ve imagined a sort of heavy grayness, even on Holy Saturdays when the sun shines brightly. What would it feel like to believe that God had be executed, tortured, killed? To live without even an echo of resurrection?
When I walked to my congregation’s meeting house yesterday, preparing to set up the Zoom broadcast for our Good Friday service, I felt a profound sense of unreality. I couldn’t make my mind remember that I would be in the sanctuary alone, that my worship collaborators would be visible only through a screen, that every house I passed was filled with people sheltering in place, that New York had started digging mass graves for virus victims. I still felt numb when the service ended. I put away the worship elements in an empty building, and when I got home and climbed into bed, I tried to imagine what Easter could be. I cried. And I waited.
I was hoping, by the time I got to this point in writing this post, that I would have something profound to say. But I don’t. I just have emotions calling out past the numbness for expression. Anger at systems that have not prioritized the vulnerable. Grief for the many little normalcies my life has lost. Sadness for the people dying and mourning alone. Fear as I wonder what parts of our world will be resilient. There is no other call in this moment but the call to stillness, to sit with the reality of the world as fully as I can. The women who followed Jesus knew that their task with the jars of spices would wait. They all could wait.
Most of the theological explanations for what Jesus did on Saturday have focused on the “harrowing of hell,” a sort of final victory for Christ over the death-dealing powers of Satan. The Apostles’ Creed states that Jesus “descended into hell” as its only description of what happens on this strange Saturday. No one actually knows what happened. And knowing what happened, I think, is not the point. All we can know – what can give us consolation – is that whatever happened, Jesus was present in this day, in this unreal, isolated, waiting day. And Jesus is here with us still.