I have always loved what Christians historically call “holy week.” Part of this is because, as someone raised Catholic, I remember this week as the time in the year when church services follow a different rhythm. That is, rather than repeating the same basic structure of the Mass like most Sundays, holy week consists of services for Holy Thursday and Good Friday that feel unique, more soulfelt and dark. But, then, I’ve long believed Catholics practice sadness better than Protestants.
Interestingly, as my theologian friend, Deanna Thompson, points out in her book “Glimpsing Resurrection,” most Christian churches do not mark “Holy Saturday.” She writes:
“It is a day that is attended to only briefly in the Biblical story, a space where meaning is elusive and hope can be hard to see… This day between cross and resurrection seems like a nonevent, a time of waiting in which nothing of significance occurs and of which there is little to be said.”
And, yet, this is the day that marks how, as the Apostles’ Creed acknowledges, Jesus “descended into hell.” It is, as Deanna mentions, “a story of abandonment and separation.”
In this time of pandemic, we also may be feeling that hope can be hard to see right now. Maybe we also struggle with feeling abandoned or separated. Perhaps this feels like waiting or even a kind of personal or societal hell.
This year, Holy Saturday has the potential to take on renewed meaning for Christians. We can better appreciate the significance of how Jesus endured suffering, knows what it feels like to suffer, and experienced hell and the abandonment and separation that hell includes. We can feel a kind of solidarity from Jesus with our suffering, solidarity with all those around the world who suffer, not only in this pandemic, but as a part of lives typically full of struggle. As demonstrated by Jesus, we can spiritually protest by questioning and complaining – with feelings of anxiety, anger, and disappointment – and realize that this, as psychologist Julie Exline does, can be a part of a “close, resilient relationship with God.”
As we sit in this space, I think of Henri Nouwen’s wise counsel:
“Being patient is difficult. It is not just waiting until something happens over which we have no control… Patience asks us to live the moment to the fullest, to be completely present to the moment, to taste the here and now, to be where we are. When we are impatient, we try to get away from where we are. We behave as if the real thing will happen tomorrow, later, and somewhere else. Be patient and trust that the treasure you are looking for is hidden in the ground on which you stand.”
We humans long for more. We need hope that what is not yet fulfilled will be at some point. This is why Easter means so much. But, it’s difficult to fully appreciate Easter until we acknowledge our experience of waiting, impatience, and irresolution. This may be where the treasure is at this time, hidden in the ground on which we stand.