“When all the people…saw what took place, they beat their breast and went away. But all those who knew him including the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance, watching these things.” – Luke 23:48-49
Jesus is dead and for those who were there for the first Holy Saturday there was no hope that he’d come back. They could only “beat their breast” and “stand at a distance” as all their hope faded into a lifeless tomb.
On Holy Saturday there are no words – no words from Jesus, no words of our own. We use words to convey ideas, to communicate needs and respond to the needs of others. We also use words to guide, direct and even control our environment. We especially use words to control others – how people see us and how we are seen in our world. We may even use words to control God.
A few years ago in seminary we were asked in one of my classes to pick a partner, someone we didn’t know well. We were invited to sit facing each other, seated in our chairs, for five minutes. We were not to speak or use gestures but to simply “hold space” for the person we were with. I snickered and grinned the first minute – I wanted so bad to explain myself to them, to communicate that I wasn’t to be feared, that I was their friend, but I wasn’t able to. I had to trust that they would trust me and this was hard because I had always used my words to make sure people saw me the way I wanted them to see me.
Today we sit in front of the tomb, facing it as it faces us. We hold space for the tomb and it holds space for us and even envelopes us as it envelopes Jesus. In this wordless space we see only the tomb and the tomb sees only us, without our words to be seen as someone or something else. The tomb becomes a mirror, reflecting back to us the tomb inside us, our deepest needs, our hunger, our desperation and there are no words we can say to manipulate or coerce it into action. We may say to the tomb, “Arise!” but it is silent, it only listens and listens so well that we eventually hear, not only our words, but the groaning of our heart, of our gut, which we often curb and dilute with our words.
At the tomb we are stripped of all the ways we control our world and somehow in this death we begin to live in a way which feels foreign and yet incredibly familiar. We can only stand there at a distance, watching and hear the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit’s groanings rise up within us. It is not Easter, for on Saturday we know nothing of this kind. It is Saturday and we descend into the depths of the tomb to discover ourselves, beaten, bruised, mocked, stripped and humiliated; somehow in this place we sense the familiar presence of Emmanuel.
Jesus, we know that you rose again on that first Easter but our lives are filled with Holy Saturdays where we simply are not sure. This is a terrifying reality for us. We ask that we would find the tomb today that rests in each of us – the place where we have no words and can only sit, scream, or lose hope. Lead us into your resurrection we pray.