“The anxious, colossal void”

The Centre for Theology & Community l

Miriam Brittenden, who co-ordinates our Buxton Leadership Programme, and is a community organiser in Shadwell, reflects for St George-in-the-East and CTC on the meaning of Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday. The in-between. After the brutal, painful Passion of Good Friday, and yet far from the joy of Sunday morning. It is the anxious, colossal void which many of us skip over at Easter.

And yet for those original players in the story, for Jesus’ mother, his disciples, his friends, and his followers, this was not the in between –  this was the end.

Picture yourself at the scene. A cross stands on a hill, the sky is dark. The persecutors have persecuted, the deserters have deserted, the thieves have scavenged, the friends have betrayed, and even the women who stayed faithfully until the end, are gone to weep and mourn.

The colour and possibility, the hope and ecstasy of a mere week ago, has faded to ash. Promises and truths which seemed so certain, now look weak, the possible now impossible. This was always a risk, Jesus always said his path would not be smooth…but this? Surely not.

The Son of God has breathed his last, the stone has been rolled in front of the tomb, and it is finished. It is finished.

It seems to me that this year, Holy Saturday has a particular significance for all of us, because of the darkness in which we now find ourselves. Everything we took for granted has been brought into question, our old ways of life have halted, and crippling uncertainty surrounds all of us.

For many of us too, just like Jesus’ closest followers and family, we are grieving and may yet grieve for our loved ones. We don’t know when this time will end, just like those first witnesses to the Easter story. We are somewhere between dusk and dawn, deep in the darkest, loneliest hours of the night, asking ourselves, will morning ever come?

Holy Saturday was the greatest test of faith for Jesus’ followers. We have the benefit of history to know how it all ended, but they did not. And now, like them, we do not know how this will all end. We cannot begin to measure the scale of loss that has and may yet come. But one thing we can be certain of, is the immeasurable, steadfast love of Christ, promised to us in the resurrection which will come on Sunday.

The Psalmist in Psalm 22 asks, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’, the same words Jesus cries out as he lays dying on the cross, words which depict such depths of desolation. And yet by the end, the Psalmist rejoices ‘For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one….but has listened to his cry for help’.

St Julian of Norwich, the 13th Century anchoress, who herself lived through a time of pandemic in the Black Death during the 14th Century, and experienced immense personal pain and suffering says, wrote, ‘We need to know how small creation is, and to count all things that are made as nothing, if we are to love and have God who is not created.’

She gives the example of a tiny hazelnut in her hand, and marvels at its existence ‘for I thought it might have crumbled to nothing, it was so small’…and yet, she says ‘it lasts, and ever shall because God loves it’.  And in that hazelnut she sees three truths: the first, that God made it, the second, that God loves it, the third, that God looks after it.

And so it is with us – God made us, he loves us, and he sustains us. And yet how easy that is to forget. So many of us, as Sister Julian says, are not at rest in heart and soul because we seek rest in things that are ‘so little, there is no rest in them’. We cling to our certainties to give us meaning and security, and when those certainties falter, as they do now and they did for those first disciples on Holy Saturday, we are at a loss.

But a life without risk, without surrender, a life without pain and loss, is not a life of faith.

The only true rest is to be found in our creator, but in order to have that, we must accept that the things around us, the ground beneath us, is always shifting, and to place our hope in the only thing which is unshakeable.

How many of us, are brave enough to sit in that darkness?  To dwell in the uncertainty, to embrace it, and to take time this Holy Saturday to meditate on God’s sustaining love which clothes us, ‘as the body is clad in clothes’, now as ever. Will we choose to believe, despite everything we see around us to the contrary – willing us to despair –  that resurrection will come in the morning?  That is true faith, and true hope.


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