Holy Saturday: The Reality of Death

March 30, 2013

HolySaturday-JesusLaidInTheTomb-OBrien-01Holy Saturday is the day of the tomb.  Jesus died on Good Friday and resurrects on Easter Sunday, so Holy Saturday is the day in between death and new life.  Last year, on this day, I provided a meditation based on the song “Memory” from the musical Cats.   This year, for this in-between day, I offer a short meditation from Etty Hillesum, a Jewish woman who hid other Jews in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.  Her account of that time, An Interrupted Life, is a classic of spiritual and liberation literature.  The following quotation comes from that book:

“The reality of death has become a definite part of my life; my life has, so to speak, been extended by death, by looking death in the eye and accepting it, by accepting destruction as part of life and no longer wasting my energies on fear of death or the refusal to acknowledge its inevitability. It sounds paradoxical: by excluding death from our life, we cannot live a full life, and by admitting death into our life we can enlarge and enrich it.”

May we all experience the grace of which Etty Hillesum writes.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Holy Saturday: Let the Memory Live Again

April 7, 2012

Holy Saturday, the day that Jesus lay in the tomb, is one of the most overlooked days in the Christian liturgical calendar. There is no liturgy for the day and very little spirituality or theology about it. We tend to move right from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, moving from crucifixion to new life, from sadness and pain to joy and exultation.  What happens in between?

That question can be asked in another way: What does it take to move from death to new life?  We have all experienced that phenomenon in our lives: the time after something terrible happens and we think we will never be able to continue and the time before we experience a new outlook and renewed joy in living.  This in-between time can be a struggle.

When God offers us the opportunity for new life, we have the choice to accept or reject God’s grace.  We can’t resurrect ourselves; we can only choose to accept or reject the grace of resurrection that God offers when we are ready for it.  To make the choice for life requires a conscious effort on our part to decide to act differently.  We must recall how we were before, choose not to exist in this “dead” state, remember how God’s love operates in our lives, and elect to start life anew.

I can’t help but imagine that Jesus, while lying in the tomb, went through a similar process. While, of course, He was dead, my imagination can’t help but wonder what His thoughts might have been if He had them.  I believe that, just as we have to do, Jesus had to choose to resurrect.

For me, this experience of being “dead” and needing to choose to live a new life is best described in the lyrics of the popular song, “Memory,” from the musical, Cats, by Andrew Lloyd Weber.  I like to think of them as the “thoughts” that Jesus had while lying in the tomb. Here are the lyrics, followed by my interpretation of them in light of Holy Saturday:

1. Daylight
See the dew on the sunflower
And a rose that is fading
Roses whither away
Like the sunflower
I yearn to turn my face to the dawn
I am waiting for the day . . .

2. Midnight
Not a sound from the pavement
Has the moon lost her memory?
She is smiling alone
In the lamplight
The withered leaves collect at my feet
And the wind begins to moan

3. Memory
All alone in the moonlight
I can smile at the old days
I was beautiful then
I remember the time I knew what happiness was
Let the memory live again

4. Every streetlamp
Seems to beat a fatalistic warning
Someone mutters
And the streetlamp gutters
And soon it will be morning

5. Daylight
I must wait for the sunrise
I must think of a new life
And I mustn’t give in
When the dawn comes
Tonight will be a memory too
And a new day will begin

6. Burnt out ends of smoky days
The stale cold smell of morning
The streetlamp dies, another night is over
Another day is dawning

7. Touch me
It’s so easy to leave me
All alone with the memory
Of my days in the sun
If you touch me
You’ll understand what happiness is

8. Look
A new day has begun

The first verse describes the waiting that we go through.  The second verse describes the experience of emptiness we feel when dead.  The third verse offers the remembrance of how our lives used to be.  The fourth verse tells of the hope that we have during this period.

The turning point happens in the fifth verse, which reminds us that we can experience temptation to remain dead, to remain frozen in our current condition, rather than resurrecting. In this fifth verse, we are reminded of the determination that we need to experience resurrection, that it is our choice whether to do so or not.

The sixth verse lets us know that, though it seems we are trapped by this death experience, we will soon experience new life.  The seventh verse describes how easy it can be to stay in the past, rather than opening ourselves to a new experience of life.  The eighth verse simply states that we are now at the dawn of a new experience, better than we have tasted before and unencumbered by both the joys and tragedies of the past: a true resurrection.

May we all choose to resurrect to new life from the pain and tragedy of the past.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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