Holy Saturday marks the longest period of silence in the liturgical year. There are no sacraments, there is no holy water in the fonts, the altars are stripped bare, there is no mass. There is simply silence. This Lent, with our pandemic, we have in many ways been living out a very long holy Saturday.
“The Resurrection of Christ,” painted by Noel Coypel, via Wikimedia Commons.
The horror of the Passion of Jesus rises to a crescendo in Matthew, with the loud cry of Jesus, the rocks being split, graves being opened and the stunned confession of the Centurion, that this was truly God’s son. This revelation from a pagan only says that they had got it miserably wrong in their torture and crucifixion of the innocent one. Which seems too little too late. Death seemingly has had the last word, after which there is only silence. There is nothing left to be said. The body which gave life to the dead is now passive and still; it is taken down, wrapped in linen, laid in a tomb all in seeming silence. The women watch, again in silence, from a distance.
Jesus spoke several times about his resurrection, whenever he spoke about his impending passion and death. But the disciples never seemed to grasp the one or the other. No one in the gospels seemed to believe in the Resurrection. The disciples don’t even seem to remember his words. The only characters who come close enough to it are the Pharisees. They remember it fearfully, enough to ask Pilate for a guard of soldiers to guard a corpse. To make sure what is dead remains dead and their victory is not turned to defeat.
But thankfully, the Gospel continues. Matthew notes that towards the dawn of the first day (when the first light of a new day is seen) and after the sabbath (which marked the covenant of God with his creation), recalling Genesis, where God saw all that was made and declared it ‘good’. When soon after, man messed it up, God never gave up on him or his good creation. God would constantly come back to renew it, giving hope and promising something entirely new. And now, it is not just the gospels but the whole of salvation history comes to a dramatic climax as something completely new happens. Something even greater than what happened at creation itself.
As the first light dawns, the women come back. The women display a quiet courage throughout the Passion, where the apostles fail. They are there suffering with Jesus, without being influenced by the crowds. They silently watch at his tomb. And completed their lawful sabbath rest, they come back, braving the guards. Obviously, they too, don’t believe in the Resurrection. In the other gospels, it mentions them coming with spices to anoint the body. With all their goodness, they too are marked by the death that marks all humanity. There is a nostalgia about what was, a regret – about what could have been and the tragic turn of events. The one they had known and loved had been taken away. Violently and unjustly. What remains is only sadness as they come to honour a life that once was.
But after a short pause, Matthew’s symphony picks up again, to rise to a final glorious crescendo: an angel swoops down, rolls the stone away, and triumphantly sits on it. The earth shakes and the guards guarding the corpse themselves become like corpses.The angel’s dramatic entry though, oddly enough, is to show them the empty tomb and verify that Jesus who was dead is no longer there. And to the terrified women, the risen Jesus appears, greeting them with ‘Rejoice!’, the same greeting with which the angel would greet Mary at the Annunciation. This was the Messianic greeting that Israel longed to hear in all their trials and afflictions, across the ages. When the Messiah came, he would bring about justice, he would vindicate them, he would set everything right. Their belief would be vindicated as this was first announced to Mary and now, it would come to a glorious climax as this was announced again by the risen Messiah to the astounded women. The night had finally ended. The power of death had been destroyed. Everything had changed.
What could this mean for all of us living as it were, in a pandemic which never seems to end? Let me touch on just a few implications.
The Resurrection is God’s ultimate approval of everything he created. When God saw that it was good, even when we would stop believing in his creation or ourselves, God wouldn’t. The worst mess we could create would not deter God’s ultimate rescue which is the resurrection. What he has accomplished in Christ is the ‘first-fruits’ (1 Cor 15:20) of what he will do for all creation on the last day. We can have hope that God will set everything right, both in our own lives and in the cosmos.
With the Crucifixion, humanity committed its gravest crime, not simply because it was the Son of God, but also because the most innocent one who was cruelly and unjustly killed. But the felix culpa – happy fault – of the Easter announcement means that even the worst man could do was already accommodated in God’s plan and God could bring good out of it.
If Maundy Thursday and Good Friday revealed the depths of God’s perfect love for us and showed that love was possible on earth, the Resurrection is its necessary completion. Love demands communion. A love which ended only in death where all relationship was terminated means that it couldn’t bring about what it promised. In Christ, what we love is saved and made whole.
The resurrected life is a new life, not the old that’s simply revived. We will not get the same life again, but what is authentically good about this life will be made all new. Jesus wouldn’t have the same life (or body) but the women would recognise him – and he, them. His glorified body would still contain the marks of the wounds. They would not be for him to hold over those who tortured him to torment them, they will simply be the marks of his love for them. Jesus would send the women to announce good news, forgiveness to those who had betrayed him. Resurrection means the possibility of forgiveness. We can confess our sins, knowing God’s love.
His forgiveness would be simultaneous with him setting them in a new relationship with himself and each other. Jesus would, for the first time call them his brothers. Our relationships will be made new, all the more beautiful as they are restructured around Christ, as we are made brothers and sisters in Him, the one who holds all things together in truth and love.
Like the women with the spices, a lot of our lives can be lived in regret of what once was. Be it through our own fault or that of others, or simply ‘chance’, we can spend a lot of our lives wishing things were different. A broken relationship, a deep loss, the sins which have destroyed so much of our life. Because of the Resurrection, our sins can be forgiven, our past can be healed. The angel rolls the stone away so we can see that the tomb of our fears is empty. There is nothing there; fantasising about the past and perfuming it with spices will be futile. But if having looked firmly into it we would turn, having made peace with it, we can hear the voice of the Risen One with his greeting of joy. To live in the truth of the Resurrection means knowing that the past does not have the final say on our present or our future.
When the women touch the new body of Jesus, they come to believe truly as their fears are assuaged and their hearts healed. We are given to ‘touch’ this new body every Sunday in the Eucharist. Here we can be made whole. And this leads to proclaiming this good news, to mission. Once we touch the risen Lord and his life, we can’t help but communicate it. It is this that brings joy, even as the darkness continues.
But if in this darkness we find ourselves unable to believe, do not despair. No one believed in the Resurrection in the gospels, but one. Mary. She would be the only one waiting, believing in the Resurrection in the end. Just as she would compensate for Zechariah’s failed faith in the Annunciation in the beginning, she would compensate for that of the disciples in the end. Her faith would always compensate and cover for the lack of it in the Church of which she is the perfection. If you find the darkness overwhelming, call on Mary. With her, you can encounter the Risen Son. With her, you will hear the voice of Jesus, announcing good news, and find joy even in the darkness.