Holy Saturday: We Wait

J. Nicole Morgan

I am one who has seen affliction under the rod of God’s wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; against me alone he turns his hand, again and again, all day long. He has made my flesh and my skin waste away, and broken my bones; he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; he has made me sit in darkness like the dead of long ago. He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has put heavy chains on me; though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer; he has blocked my ways with hewn stones, he has made my paths crooked.
Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-24

The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me. 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,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

Holy Saturday is the day we wait. On this side of the resurrection, we know what we are waiting for. The disciples and followers of Jesus did not. It was just a day after the death of a person they dearly loved and the death of hope for the future.

In seminary, I started the practice of seeking to enter a place on Holy Saturday where I imagined I was mourning the death of a friend, leader, and teacher. I imagine what it must have felt like to feel despair and loss and be uncertain of the future and what may come if what you had devoted your life to is gone.

Those imaginings are easier to enter into this year as the world faces so much loss and devastation and unknowns about when or how our futures will continue. I am writing this almost one month since I began social-distancing at the beginning of March. By the time you read the words in just a few days, I cannot even fathom what devastating or hopeful things will have made the news. Holy Saturday started early this year.

CMEP recently shared an episode of the podcast Women Behind The Wall that focused on life under both quarantine and occupation. A recurring theme is that this is not new for Palestinians. Living with restricted movement, monitoring, and limited access to work or supplies is a reality they have lived with for many decades, lifetimes for many.

As part of my work at Churches for Middle East Peace, I help to organize and administrate our Pilgrimage to Peace tours. This means that I get to meet and travel with peacemakers for weeks at a time. I’ve been doing this for almost five years now and every time I am encouraged and challenged by the way the peacemakers I meet both advocate clearly and directly about the severity and trauma of occupation and the way they look forward with hope and determination (and so often laughter and joy). It’s easy to focus on the latter part. To make those who face trauma our inspirational feel-good heroes by only focusing on perseverance and resilience.

And, yet: Holy Saturday asks us to wait. Holy Saturday asks us to sit in despair and acknowledge the darkness and suffering. Holy Saturday asks us to grieve with those who grieve and to imagine the weight of sorrow at believing the world you hope for is no longer a possibility.

If we do not sit in the experience of Holy Saturday, we miss the opportunity to develop empathy for others facing grief and loss and despair. As a Christian, it’s my responsibility to hear and listen to the voices of those endure these long days and generations of darkness so that I may seek to love my neighbor as myself and do all that I can to work for and advocate for justice on their behalf.

This is part of the reality of working for peace and justice that we can’t rush past or ignore. Our ability to endure and to empathize with those who are in the midst of grief allows us to draw together as a community of believers, scattered across the globe in our own homes, and offer both comfort and solidarity.

We do live on this side of the resurrection, though; we believe that that power will show up in our world. We lean into the words of Lamentations: 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,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

Creator God, in these days where we are collectively closer to confusion and despair than we often find ourselves, may we draw near in spirit to the broken-hearted. May we lean into the holy practice of lament and name the sorrows and evils of our world. May we look forward to the work of justice and peace and resolve to share our burdens. When morning breaks, may we find the courage to pursue the good and holy work of resurrection, life, and freedom even and especially in the midst of ongoing suffering.

J. Nicole Morgan is CMEP’s Director of Operations.

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