Yesterday was Good Friday, a day many of us participated in liturgies that included a reading of the passion, veneration of the cross and receipt of Eucharist. Tonight (for those of us attending Easter Vigils) or tomorrow morning, we will celebrate the Resurrection.
What about today? We call today Holy Saturday. For some, it is simply an anticipation of Easter. But there is something more for us in this space between death and resurrection.
In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius invites us to take some time in the space between Jesus’ death and his Resurrection, to spend some time in that place of Christ’s absence. He believes it is necessary for us to truly experience Jesus’ death and absence before we can fully appreciate the significance of His rising for us. The “tomb day” experience of the Spiritual Exercises is thus an invitation to envision a world without Jesus.
Now this is a lot more difficult for us than it was for Jesus’ disciples. We know the next chapter of the story; we know that Resurrection follows death and so our progression from Good Friday to Easter Sunday is almost seemless. 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 Easter as the most important day of the religious calendar and many people who don’t otherwise do so will go to mass on Easter. (We used the expression “CAPE Catholics”)
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.
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 anointing it, placing it in the tomb and watching the rock being rolled across the tomb’s entrance. To be with Mary and the other disciples afterwards, to go with them wherever they go, do with them whatever they do. One instruction for the tomb day experience says, “Let the effect of Jesus’ death permeate your whole being and the world around you for the whole day.”
You might take some time today in your prayer to experience something of what Ignatius invites us to in the Exercises.