This is the tenth in the UCCDM Lenten Devotional Series. This reflection comes to us from Rev. Alan Johnson, Chair of the UCC Mental Health Network, Ex-Officio Member of UCCDM, and Former UCCDM Board Member. His bio cam be found on the Board of Directors page.
Silence, emptiness and hope are the themes for Holy Saturday
Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-24.
The heart of the Christian story is of the three days, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. Good Friday is the suffering and death of Jesus of Nazareth. Holy Saturday is the time of emptiness and silence. Easter Sunday is when God raised Jesus from the dead to new life. The three days make a compendium, a trilogy of the whole Christian story. The death, the silence, and the resurrection, as a totality, make us sing our praise, offer us ways to see the new creation coming into being, and lead the believer to a new way to living in the world.
What is the point of Holy Saturday? Why not just go from the death to the resurrection? Because it reveals the truth of life itself. When I was sunk in depression, when I could not sleep, could not focus, was in a daze, could barely communicate and did not have an appetite for many days, it seemed like life had ended. I felt hopeless. It was an empty time; a void of pleasure; a wasteland. Thank goodness for a good therapist, medication, a supportive partner, my Christian faith and a faith community to which I belonged.
That is why Holy Saturday speaks to my soul. While as post-Easter people, we can barely surmise what it must have been when Jesus’ followers knew that he was dead. Really dead, as the Apostle’s creed says, he was crucified, dead and buried. That was it. It was over. Really was. What was the hope then?
In Lamentations, we read of the experience of being bereft. “…driven and brought me into darkness without any light…has made me sit in darkness like the dead of long ago…though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer.” This must have something of what those early disciples experienced on that day after Jesus’ crucifixion. The bleakness was real. Scripture tells it like it is. Lost, consumed with darkness, not a spark of light or hope. This has been real for many people, as it had been for me.
The emptiness, the silence, our spirits crushed. Holy Saturday, the day after Jesus’ death, allows meaninglessness and hopelessness to seep into our bones. It confirms this common, universal human experience. Although hope comes in our own hopelessness, for the God in Jesus ultimately will not abandon Jesus into a final death, our faith does not deny the bleakness and the profound loss, emptiness and silence on Holy Saturday. There was nothing more humanity could do. We came to the end of the line, to the end of the rope. It is in Holy Saturday that we live in silence.
Susan Palo Cherwein has written this prose poem, “God is in Silence.”
In the emptiness, God is.
In the darkness, God is.
In the silence, God is.
When the psalmist cried out form the pit,
God was already there.
When we cry out from the deep night,
God is already there.
When the silence is roaring in our minds,
God is there.
For when we are emptied of our paltry projects and goals,
When our grandiose and prideful accomplishments run aground in darkness,
When even our incessant mental chatter ceases in despair,
God is revealed in silence
Whither can we flee from God’s presence?
In the silence and the emptiness in this second day of the Christian Story, the Holy still resides. The writer of Lamentations writes, “But this I call to mind.” There is that “Divine BUT.” “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, therefore I will hope in him.”
Even on Holy Saturday when we spiritually journey into that place of gloom and doom, where, if it is not our lot at this time, it is the lot of many people in the world this day, we can remember. We can call to mind that it is with God that there is hope. And even if a person does not have hope, when in the pits, it is still God who shows up in unexpected ways and with surprising people to keep rekindling the fires of faith and hope. We know that God is the One who keeps us, holds us, lifts us up, and always provides hope in our hopelessness. Enter into the experience of Holy Saturday acknowledging that the emptiness and the silence are part of our human experience, but it is never the last word. That last word comes tomorrow.
“God is in Silence” from Crossing: Meditations for Worship by Susan Palo Cherwien–Copyright © 2003 Birnamwood Publications (ASCAP) A division of MorningStar Music Publishers, Inc., St. Louis, MO. Used by permission.