Friday, April 02, 2010

(Not a) Homily for Holy Saturday Morning

I very nearly started this reflection -- to be given at Morning Prayer today -- with the sense of utter disconnection I felt on the Holy Saturday after Tom died. All the funeral arrangements had been made, but everything was on hold until the Triduum was over. I was still completely stunned by what had happened - and utterly devastated. Meanwhile, much of the rest of the world was dressing up in new clothes, going to Easter brunch, and generally ready to leave Lent behind. And I was -- and would be - in Lent for a long time to come. It made me wonder what those disciples long ago must have faced -- their world had come crashing down, while the rest of the world went out to celebrate Passover and the Sabbath.

In the end, I didn't and sought my usual touchstones -- poetry, the Church fathers and the psalms...but a friend has been thinking deeply and beautifully about that time, and about grieving in many forms.

The photo is from Eastern Point, and was used by a fellow retreatant during her contemplations of the third week.

Last night we walked the road to Calvary with Christ, witnesses again to the reality of Christ’s passion and death. I will admit that I find it difficult to avoid being transfixed by the horror, mentally scripting a Passion to compete with Mel Gibson’s cinematic version. I will also admit to a guilty sense of relief when the Liturgy ends and we all go home - where I am confronted with the laundry and a messy kitchen and not with Christ on the cross. Poet T.S. Eliot recognized what underlies my ambivalence, “human kind cannot bear very much reality.”

The psalm we just prayed begs for assistance in the face of an overwhelming reality of pain and torment, “my eyes grow weak, gazing heaven-ward: O Lord, I am in straits, be my surety!” The psalmist cannot bear to look on such things for very long, either, I suspect.

But this moment we are now suspended in, the empty time between Holy Friday and the Great Easter Vigil, demands more of us than a passing acknowledgement of the grievous sufferings Christ endured on our behalf. St. Augustine’s advice on contemplating the Passion is difficult to hear:
“You suppose that having said ‘I cried out to you,’ you are somehow done with crying out. But even though you have cried out, you must not expect relief to come quickly. The agony of the Church and of the Body of Christ will last until the end of time.”
It’s a harrowing grace I seek on this day, to sit with the knowledge that Jesus has died, but not yet risen. All too often in my journey through the Triduum I have contemplated the Crucifixion while watching the Resurrection out of the corner of my eye - singing O Sacred Head Surrounded one moment, rehearsing Easter alleluias the next.

This year, I’ve thrown my lot in with Augustine, momentarily open to an experience of a world truly empty of Jesus’ physical presence. Hoping to sharpen my awareness of the depths to which I am loved, the lengths to which God has gone to redeem me. Hoping to know more fully the joy of the dawning light of Christ.

Psalm 69 offers a us a poignant yet powerful image of such an experience

I have entered the watery depths, and the current has swept me away.
I am exhausted with my calling out.
My throat is hoarse.
My eyes fail from hoping for my God.

Holy Saturday is an invitation for us enter those depths, to let the current sweep us away, until we know what it is like to call for God until we are exhausted, to seek him until our eyes fail. Until we grasp what we proclaim at each celebration of the Eucharistic, until we comprehend what the first disciples did: Christ has died. For this one day, let us bear what reality we can.


  1. Beautiful post.

    I sat in the Carmelite service yesterday afternoon and thought about what it is like to live, day after day, in that space between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning.

  2. Dear Michelle -

    This is exactly what I needed this morning. Your wisdom, your words, your thoughtful recounting of your steps.

    And the friends. The connections. What a grace, to be able to read and connect with others.

    And to sit. Simply and in silence.

    Waiting. And I said to my soul, be still.

  3. Lovely as always, Michelle...And I beg to differ on the naming of the wisdom you and your sisters are speaking to your community these great three days. I think this is a homily, and that it deserves the name more than many from those who take the privilege you humbly treasure for granted, and whose words deal death instead of life.

  4. "It’s a harrowing grace I seek on this day, to sit with the knowledge that Jesus has died, but not yet risen."

    Yes. And it's important to spend time in that space, but as you point out, it's hard...

  5. Stasa -- it is a hard place, but I think there is a layer of witness there as well, that even if our lives are not caught in that moment right now, it's important to experience a taste.

    And Sophia....the general instructions for the LOH do call it a homily (#47)! I am grateful to the Augustinian community who welcomes and supports all our voices.

    Robin...I remember telling my director at the time that I felt as if Easter had passed me by that year, and that I had been left behind in Lent. To which she responded - you have been -- and pointed out that the disciples must have been equally stunned, and many likely for much longer than 3 days.

    Cindy -- I am thinking of your friends in this space today.

  6. “human kind cannot bear very much reality.”... Margaret and I walked this morning and talked about the images from the fire that are ... too strong to fade quickly.

  7. As others have said, a beautiful post. Hauntingly beautiful and has brought me to tears in its abundance of thoughts on this Holy Saturday.

    Be still.

    Be still.

    Be still.

  8. I needed this as a meditation today. I have not had a great Lent in terms of preparation or reflection. I feel adrift in many ways. This is an interesting perspective on the apostles and their reaction. I am sorry to think of you in that awful Triduum years ago.

    Thank you for the hauntingly, beautiful post!