Today there is a great silence over the earth,
a great silence, and stillness,
a great silence because the King sleeps.
-from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday
Today is Holy Saturday – the final day of Lent. The church calendar, with its celebrations and solemnities, is a powerful way to mold our lives yearly around the life of Christ. In December, we anticipate his coming and rejoice at his birth. Later in the winter, we remember Christ’s passion and death. Spring brings his resurrection, and in summer, we celebrate the reign of Christ the King over the world.
Theologians often speak of the “already – not yet”; that is, that Christ is already reigning in our world, but the victory is not yet fully realized. We still live in a world broken by sin and death. While the joyful festal days – such as Easter and Christmas – remind us of the “already,” it is the solemn seasons such as Lent which recall the “not yet.”
In Shushako Endo’s novel Silence, the title of the book reflects the perceived silence of God in the midst of human misery. The book wrestles with the problem of evil – how could God be seemingly silent: how could he allow such suffering in our world?
But Holy Saturday gives a new meaning to the idea of God’s silence. God is silent on that day; not because he is distant from our affliction, but because he – in the person of Christ – has died taking part in it. He has come down to suffer with us. The silence of God on Holy Saturday indicates not his absence from the world, but his salvation of it.
For those who are now enduring the effects of this broken world, Christ’s passion bears particular meaning. And for all of us, it is a crucial part of the story: to feel this grief, to imagine what it might have been like for the disciples, to mourn with those who mourn.
So today, on Holy Saturday, be silent. Let your house be still. Allow yourself to grieve. Our Lord lies in the grave.
And at dawn, when the surprise of Easter comes – the sorrow will have made the joy that much greater. When my sister lost her unborn son, my mother wondered to me if those who had suffered greatly on earth might experience a deeper joy in heaven, so great would be the contrast between the former grief and the present glory. I think it might be true. After all, they have shared in Christ’s tribulation in a very real way.
The ancient homily quoted above ends with a particularly medieval vision of Christ’s descent into hell, in which he rescues his beloved ones, Adam and Eve.
…And grasping Adam’s hand, he raises him up, saying:
“Awake sleeper! I have not made you to be a prisoner in the underworld.
Arise, let us go hence! The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise;
I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven.”
Know this: if you are suffering today, you do not endure it alone. Today, our Lord is in the grave. He has suffered with you. And when he rises, he will bring you with him.