Holy Saturday is a day that sometimes gets short shrift, treated as the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday…the day we get the church ready for the Easter Vigil and do our shopping for the Easter feast. But “tomb day” in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius is an important experience. For Ignatius, it is necesssary for us to truly experience Jesus’ death and absence before we can fully appreciate the significance of His rising for us. Holy Saturday is thus an invitation to envision a world without Jesus.
Now this is more difficult for us than it was for Jesus’ disciples. We know the next chapter of the story; we know that Easter Sunday is tomorrow. We live in a world infused with resurrection, so we never question it. Each Sunday we recite the words in the Creed, that Jesus was crucified, died, was buried and rose again. The truth is, that living on this side of the Resurrection, we largely take it for granted. I’m not saying we don’t take it seriously – Christians treat it as the most important day fo the religious calendar and many people who don’t otherwise do so will go to mass on Easter.
But do we really appreciate what we have? Do we really think about what life would be if Jesus did not rise on the third day?
The disciples did have a very real sense of this. For them, the death of Jesus was the end. For them, there was a real period of darkness after the crucifixion and before the Resurrection. Three years of following Jesus and it was all over. Think of what they experienced. Fear, that everything Jesus had said and done ended at his death. Powerlessness, believing they had been abandoned by God. The finality of loss, as the stone was put in front of the tomb. Confusion, “the road before them shrouded in darkness,” in the words of one prayer.
Holy Saturday is our invitation to get in touch with that sense of loss, to try to understand what it would mean to live in a world without Jesus. To try to experience it in a real and personal way. The instruction for prayer during “tomb day” in the Spiritual Exercises is to be with the disciples and with Mary and the other women in their grief over losing Jesus. To actually be with them – taking Jesus body off the cross, washing and annointing it, placing it in the tomb and watching the rock being rolled across the tomb’s entrance. Be with Mary and the other disciples afterwards. Wherever they go, go with them. Whatever they are doing, do it with them. One instruction for the tomb experience says, “Let the effect of Jesus’ death permeate your whole being and the world around you for the whole day.”
We are invited today to spend some time in that space between death and resurrection. It is a good invitation to accept.