21 Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends,
for the hand of God has touched me!
22 Why do you, like God, pursue me,
never satisfied with my flesh?
23 ‘O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!
24 O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock forever!
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
26 and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
27 whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
Job 19: 21-27a (NRSV)
Holy Saturday is the quietest day of Holy Week, if not of the entire church year. In my church, the crosses have all been removed, along with the candlesticks and candles. There are no cushions on the seats in the chancel, no prayer books and no hymnals. The reserved sacrament in the sacristy has been fully consumed following Maundy Thursday services. There are no flowers or vases anywhere. The altar is bare, having been stripped of its linens, cleaned and oiled on Thursday night. It stands with its bare surface and legs exposed. There are no Saturday services. No Glorias. No Alleluias. No proclamations. A profound silence pervades the sanctuary.
Saturday of Holy Week is the day we would like to skip over, preferring to move directly from the grief of Good Friday into the joy of Easter Sunday. But Saturday forces us to face what has happened and take time to absorb the impact. After the anguish of the crucifixion, Saturday is a day of stunned disbelief. It is not a space that we inhabit with comfort. Jesus is gone, and we are bereft. The most complete kind of silence is sometimes referred to as “silent as the grave.” Holy Saturday gives us time in this quality of silence, and an opportunity to confront the grave and our fears.
In 1520, Hans Holbein the younger painted a strikingly realistic painting called “The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb.” It depicts a life-sized Jesus lying on the limestone slab of his tomb. We can see his somewhat emaciated body from the side, and his pallid, green-tinged skin. His hands and feet show bruises and the wounds of his crucifixion. His side shows the gash from the centurion’s spear. His eyes and mouth are open as if Holbein is telling us that even in death, Christ is still speaking to us. It is an eerie image. There is no mistaking that Christ is dead, not sleeping. This is true death. Yet something mysterious and miraculous happens on this day, to Jesus as he lies in death, and to us as we pray in contemplation.
The transformation of Holy Saturday is not that of active work. It is a transformation that occurs invisibly, in silence. It is an examination of life and self invited by quietness and rest. It is the transformation of Sabbath. While the church stands silent, our souls do the work of reaching out to God in prayer as we consider our Lord’s death, and how it feels to be separated from him. Henri Nouwen said, “This divine silence is the most fruitful silence that the world has ever known. From this, the Word will be spoken again and make all things new.” This day of quiet opens us, invites us to be still, and in that stillness, to know our selves and God.
Martin Laird in his book, “Into the Silent Land” also speaks about this stillness.
“The relationship between creature and Creator is such that, by sheer grace, separation is not possible. God does not know how to be absent. The fact that most of us experience throughout most of our lives a sense of absence or distance from God is the great illusion that we are caught up in; it is the human condition. The sense of separation from God is real, but the meeting of stillness reveals that this perceived separation does not have the last word. “
When we have the opportunity, as we do on this Holy Saturday, to still our hearts and minds, confront our fears, and rest in the knowledge and love of God, a transformation occurs within us. We will know, like Job, that although he has died, the truth is that our redeemer lives, and that after our own skin has been destroyed, we, too shall in our flesh see God. We will be prepared to greet Easter morning with joy knowing that nothing, not even death, shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
“O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life;
who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.”
–Book of Common Prayer
Middle Level, M. Div.
Kristin Wickersham is from Richmond, Virginia and is a Postulant for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. Her presenting parish is St. James’s, Richmond. She is currently serving as the seminarian at St. Andrew’s, Richmond. After graduation, Kristin plans to attend Virginia Theological Seminary to obtain a Post-Graduate Diploma in Anglican Studies. God willing and the people consenting, she hopes to be ordained to the priesthood in 2019 and accept a call as a parish priest.