This great celebration of ultimate reality, begins in utter darkness. The Church invites us to start this liturgy after the sun has set. In this liturgical context, darkness is a sign that has two levels of meaning. At one level, the darkness expresses the fundamental blindness that all human beings experience, most especially the blind spots caused by our sinfulness; but at a deeper level, the darkness reminds us of the natural progression of light, from the dead of night to the first rays of light at early dawn. This kind of darkness reminds us that we are awaiting the Morning Star, Jesus Christ, the light of the world, the radiance of the Father. This is the darkness of hope, the hope that encourages us to walk by faith and not by sight.
Good Friday is a day of shock and grief. Easter Sunday, a day of ecstasy and joy. How then might we describe Holy Saturday? Darkness and trauma. Within the mystery of Holy Saturday, we find a place where all of our traumas rest, a place where all of our traumatic experiences are united with Jesus in the tomb. Some theologians have pointed out how uneasy we can feel during the in-between time that connects Good Friday and Easter.
On the first Holy Saturday, I imagine that the disciples and beloved friends of Jesus were transitioning – emotionally – from their initial shock at the crucifixion to a more keen awareness of the dark void and the trauma within them. What was their response to this profound disorientation?
Whereas the disciples of Jesus, overwhelmed by grief and confusion, huddled fearfully in a small room in Jerusalem, two women were able to perceive rays of hope emerging from the interior darkness. Inspired by this flicker of hope, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary step away from their fear and begin a journey toward the tomb of Jesus. When they arrive at the tomb, the earth quakes, and an angel, basked in light, rolls back the tomb’s entry stone. He exclaims: “Do not be afraid! Jesus is not here, for he has been raised as he promised!” As the women – filled with awe and great joy – begin to run back to share the Good News with the disciples, Jesus encounters them and greets them with a big smile, no doubt! As Mary Magdalene and Mary, overcome with deep feeling, tenderly embrace him, Jesus affirms their desire to announce the resurrection to his brothers. These heroic women’s trauma, touched by the hand of the Lord, is now transformed into a mission of evangelization, peace, and wildly extravagant joy.
The present crisis caused by the corona virus pandemic has revealed our powerlessness in the face of the ravages of an unknown disease. It has also shown the grim face of suffering and death. Stronger than this uncertainty, however, is our Christian belief that in the essential powerlessness of all human beings, Jesus, through his death and resurrection, comes to save us. His Paschal Mystery invites us to receive the gift of eternal life, and – in the power of the Holy Spirit – we are restored to our full dignity as sons and daughters of our loving, providentially caring Father.
Today might be a graced opportunity to call to mind the traumatic experiences of our lives and allow them to be with Jesus in the tomb. In a strange, mysterious way, the tomb has become a womb in which our traumatic experiences are gradually turned into joy. The tomb, in fact, gives birth to the joy that is eternal, Jesus Christ.
Inspired by Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, let us make the journey to the tomb, knowing that the Lord is taking good care of us – especially the places in our hearts that are most wounded and afraid.
The Renewal of Baptismal Promises we are about to celebrate is a great affirmation of our faith in this time of pandemic. Tonight we claim life, healing, and salvation through Jesus Christ, our Lord, and we rejoice in his resurrection. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.