Holy Saturday, Holy Remaining
Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment. (Luke 23: 50-56)
Eight years ago today, I crammed my body into a crowded building filled with lit candles and singing and billowing incense. The faces of pilgrims and priests intermixed with those of saints in the form of icons watching over all who gathered to wait. And wait is what we did–hundreds of us curious souls–on the eve of Easter, in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
Over the course of that night, I felt a strange calm sweep over me and a deep contentment inhabit my body. I had never experienced a collective ritual so magical, nor had I ever been more sure that I both knew exactly what I was waiting for and simultaneously hadn’t the slightest idea. This mystery is an element of a number of diverse Holy Saturday, or Saturday of Light, traditions which range from baptism renewal, to fasting and repentance, to a passing of Holy Fire.
This mystery is something we might resonate with as we reflect on a season of seeds planted, and dwell in the space of unknowing–that which is in between death and new life. Holy Saturday is an in-between time—a space that invokes pause, reflection, mourning, and dare I say, cultivating hope.
Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Holy Saturday 2013
In her book, Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining, Shelly Rambo writes of Holy Saturday as a “time of remaining,” a space where trauma dwells in the aftermath of death. Rambo insists that with the resurrection narrative, it is easy to “gloss over difficulty, casting it within a larger framework in which the new replaces the old, and in which good inevitably wins out over evil” (Rambo 2010, 6). Holy Saturday, for Rambo, is a space where the experience of death and trauma persists, where clear demarcations between death and life erode. Rambo’s concern regarding theological tendencies to approach suffering and trauma from a binary framework (i.e. death vs. life; good vs. evil; suffering vs. healed) adds important nuance to our Lenten reflections on working towards peace and justice in the Middle East.
In our work at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), we are always navigating a Holy Saturday kind of tension. The realities of our partners and friends on the ground in the Middle East are all too often in “time of remaining”–in the wake of death and trauma. And we at CMEP join with our Muslim, Jewish, and Christian siblings in the Middle East in mourning, in prayer, in waiting. And we advocate for them—knowing that the space between tragedy and new life cannot be held alone.
Personally, I find reflecting in spaces of unknowing as a practice that is both challenging and nourishing to my faith. However, I know that dwelling in thoughtful tension is surely not a spiritual practice for everyone!
Nonetheless, I invite you to join me this Holy Saturday in waiting in the in-between space and perhaps imagining those whose daily realities might resemble that of Holy Saturday. Let us spend time in reflection or prayer about how we might better embrace the mangled relationship of death and hope in our peacebuilding and advocacy efforts, and better advocate for all lives in the Middle East.
Scripture does not reveal much about what might have occurred on the day between Jesus’ death and resurrection. While many who witnessed Christ’s crucifixion likely went home confused, scared, disappointed, or ashamed, it appears there were a few who were faithfully waiting, remaining. Joseph of Arimathea lovingly claimed and provided refuge for Christ’s brutalized body. The women who traveled with Jesus made preparations to properly bury his body. And then, it was the Sabbath. Before the women encountered Jesus alive in his own tomb and before the disciples met him on the road to Emmaus, there was a time in-between. And in that space of unknowing, trauma, and grief, they remained.
In our reflections, we might ask:
In our work towards peace and justice, what might it look like for us to embrace this road of uncertainty, one that very tangibly links death and the journey towards resurrection?
Could resurrection be something that is both waited for and cultivated?
Might we embrace such a mindset as we continue to walk alongside our siblings in the Middle East and advocate for justice and peace among them?
Holy Saturday is indeed a space of holy mystery. So too is the life and hope that are cultivated in its midst.
God of mystery, we lift up our hurting hearts to you. Fill us with your divine comfort. Waiting God, we are comforted in knowing that you are in the in-between space. Nourish us with your presence, and let us draw from you a radical hope to remain in the struggle for peace and justice in the Middle East.
Jennifer Maidrand is the Outreach Manager for CMEP. She is a Ph.D. candidate in Bible and Cultures at Drew University, where she also earned her M.A. Her research focuses on how biblical interpretation and archeology have shaped the contemporary land of Palestine-Israel and its geo-politics. She is a member of the UCC Church and is committed to fostering interfaith and intercultural community education and dialogue around sacred texts, the earth, and politics. Jennifer is grateful to have the opportunity to utilize and grow these passions, previously as a fellow and now as a staff member with CMEP.
Rambo, Shelly. Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010.