Each Holy Week we walk the final days of Lent. On Palm/Passion Sunday we read Passion Gospel, this year from Matthew, beginning with Judas' deal with the chief priests and runs through the entire story until we get to the tomb being sealed. That's where we are today, with a sealed tomb and memories of a royal entrance into Jerusalem, some disturbance at the temple, a family meal in an upstairs room, a night of prayer and mental agony, an arrest, a shotgun trial, and culminating with a crucifixion, death and burial. And there we are.
Had we been with the disciples, we would have been hunkered down somewhere, trying to keep a very low profile because of our known association with Jesus, and yet still in shock and deep mourning for the man we had followed and trusted as a leader. Was it really supposed to end this way? Wasn't Jesus the man we thought would rid us of the Romans and bring back the glories of our ancestor, David? What do we do now? Being in a fishing boat on a stormy sea without a rudder or sail would have been easier to deal with because we would have dealt with that before. This was something unplanned and unfamiliar.
Jesus had warned the disciples of what was to come but they didn't catch it. Even the nearest and dearest missed the words and signals. When the worst happens, all that can be done is to sit, grieve the loss and wonder why: why it happened, why to this person, why now, why didn't we see any signs to tell us this was looming on the immediate horizon?
Holy Saturday is a very real time, even in June or December. It is any time a sudden and traumatic death happens. A beloved parent suddenly collapses and is gone within the span of a heartbeat, or a beloved child is found dead by their own hand. There might have been signs, and we wrack our brains, fogged as they are, to try to see what we had missed and berate ourselves for having missed what might have been a crucial clue that might have saved a life. We are left with an emptiness and a nothingness that doesn't let us see beyond the next breath or the next moment. It was probably that way for the disciples as surely as it is for us in our situations. It was undoubtedly the way it was for Mary, the woman whose son had been laid on a stone slab with a stone slab sealing it shut. Mary would understand the Holy Saturdays of any family in a similar circumstance, no matter what the day or season.
With our Holy Saturday, though, we have the advantage over the disciples because we know what happens next. Good Friday was the cliffhanger and Easter Sunday the resolution but in between we are left to occupy ourselves with other things while we wait. We dye Easter eggs, make sure the kids' Easter clothes are neat and ready for church tomorrow, make mental inventories of the marshmallow chicks and chocolate bunnies stashed in the highest corner of the back closet out of sight of small children, and double check to make sure we've remembered all the ingredients for the big family dinner. We don't spend the day sitting in a secluded hideaway somewhere, hoping to remain unnoticed until a way could be found to get out of Dodge, in a manner of speaking. That was the reality of Holy Saturday a bit over two thousand years ago. And we don’t spend the day wondering what we could have done or said or seen that could have changed an outcome. That’s the reality for many people in this day and time.
We know what is coming. We've been preparing for it for the last forty days but it isn't here yet. Perhaps this Holy Saturday, we can stop, even for a few minutes, and think about the days and weeks just past. Perhaps we can spend a few moments beside the tomb that has been closed and pray for those for whom Holy Saturday, even on a Tuesday, comes not as a prelude to Easter but to another day of grief and loss.
Easter will come. We just have to hold on to that thought and wait for it. It might seem a long time coming but it will come. Meanwhile we wait and we pray.