Between Death and Resurrection

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.

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Between Death and Resurrection

Today is Holy Saturday, the day on which we wait at the tomb.

This is the time during which Jesus “descended into hell,” as we proclaim when we recite the Apostles’ Creed. The morning prayer in the Magnificat comments in respect of this proclamation that “God does not redeem from afar. The Word descended into our humanity; the Lord descended into the depths of our suffering; Christ descended into the very realm of death itself in order to set free its captives.”

In a meditation on Holy Saturday, Pope Benedict XVI said this:

Holy Saturday is the day of the ‘death of God,’ the day which expresses the unparalleled experience of our age, anticipating the fact that God is simply absent, that the grave hides him, that he no longer awakes, no longer speaks, so that one no longer needs to gainsay him but can simply overlook him….Christ strode through the gate of his final loneliness; in his Passion he went down into the abyss of our abandonment. Where no voice can reach us any longer, there is he. Hell is thereby overcome, or, to be more accurate, death, which was previously hell, is hell no longer. Neither is the same any longer because there is life in the midst of death, because love dwells in it.

In between preparations for our celebration of the Resurrection, take some time today to honor this day. Be with the Holy Saturday experience.

Behold the Wood of the Cross

Yesterday I attended the Good Friday liturgy at my parish. I always find the Good Friday liturgy very moving, and yesterday was no exception.

Part of that liturgy is, as it has been for many centuries, the procession and veneration of the cross. “This is the wood of the cross, on which hung the Savior of the world,” intones the Presider several times as liturgical ministers carry the cross through the assembly. “Come, let us worship,” we respond each time.

And then, one by one, we make our way up to the cross, some kissing the cross, others laying a hand…some standing, some kneeling. For me, the power of the ritual lies not only in my own act of veneration, but in witnessing as each person in the assembly files up. Person after person: young and old, nimble and arthritic. I’m especially moved by those whose age would certainly excuse their absence from the liturgy, but who file up with canes or walkers, leaning further than their bodies seem capable of leaning, so that they may venerate the cross.

This is a part of our faith many non-Christians cannot understand. Someone on facebook referred to what he termed Christian “fetishization of the Crucifixion” as “repulsive.”

But for Christians, the cross is not merely about Christ’s suffering, although we certainly have an awareness of that suffering as we listen to the narrative of the Passion of Christ during the liturgy. Instead, as my parish’s worship aid for the liturgy notes, the cross is “a symbol of Christ’s Passover, where, ‘dying he destroyed our death and rising he restored our life.’ It is the glorious, life-giving cross that we venerate with song, prayer, kneeling and a kiss.”

And having done so, today we sit in the space between death and resurrection. Holy Saturday blessings to all.

Facing Death

Today we sit in the darkness. We have no liturgy. Instead, we simply contemplate death. We contemplate Jesus, who lies dead in the tomb.

This is an important contemplation. Death is real and it is something none of us escapes. Our human existence, however many years it may be, will come to an end. Rich or poor, famous or unknown, smart or slow – at some point, we will all die.

We usually shy away from thinking about death. Truth be told, we tend to fear it. But the reality is that resurrection has no meaning unless we appreciate the reality of death. Unless Jesus dies for us – really dies – then he can’t rise for us. And our own resurrection is intimately tied with his; if Jesus resurrection is not real to us, then neither can be our own.

In the words of a Creighton Holy Saturday reflection:

Today is a day to soberly put aside the blinders we have about the mystery of death and our fear of it. Death is very real and its approach holds great power in our lives. The “good news” we are about to celebrate has no real power in our lives unless we have faced the reality of death. To contemplate Jesus’ body, there in that tomb, is to look our death in the face.

We sit today in the darkness, so that we can tomorrow more fully celebrate the light.