For Catholics, Holy Saturday is a day of solemn anticipation. In the words of the ancient homily from the office of readings: “Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep.” Yet there is a vibrancy to the quiet. A buzzing sense of excitement. We make our preparations for Easter, stuff baskets, marinate lamb, maybe do some baking. Then we wait for the Easter fire to be lit in the darkness outside our churches. Jesus is coming! Soon he will be with us again!
How different must the day have felt for the disciples! For they had forgotten Jesus’ promise that he would return. For them it must have been a day of numb, shocked sorrow, perhaps even despair. The stillness that comes after the body, wracked with sobs, is exhausted and can cry no more. Nothing is better, nothing is resolved, but every tear has been shed. Perhaps they sat together, unable to sleep, unable to speak, until the early morning on Easter Sunday when the women returned to the tomb with their spices to anoint the body of their Lord.
Crises of faith take many forms and are triggered by different things: perhaps a teaching we struggle to accept, perhaps a heartbreak that seems too cruel for a loving God. Sometimes the moment of doubt is transient, sometimes a whispering lingering worry at the back of the mind, and sometimes the crisis leaves us with an almost complete loss of faith.
In this last case we may feel the only ember of faith that remains is a longing to feel confident in God again. We don’t believe, we don’t trust, but we wish we could. We go through the motions of our religion, feeling hypocritical, (or feeling nothing at all!) but somehow still clinging to that last vestige of hope that there is something to believe in, if only we could find out how. The women at the tomb must have felt something like this.
Their Messiah had failed! The seeming fulfillment of all the prophecies, the long awaited savior, stripped, scourged, mocked and killed along with common criminals! Everything they believed had come to naught. Yet now they approach the tomb, seeking to serve Jesus in this last way available to them. They are not even certain how they will carry out this task. Who will roll away the stone? But there is the stone rolled aside, and an empty tomb. ” ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of God must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.’ And they remembered his words. ”
So the smallest ember of faith and hope can be rekindled. Going through the motions, anointing the dead, can turn into a moment of new awakening and understanding. The Messiah did not fail, but rather triumphed in a way far surpassing the temporal aims many had for him. Perhaps for some it takes a crisis to pull aside our own ideas and replace them with the truth. Perhaps when we are stripped of our misconceptions, of our own plans, we can truly see Jesus as he is, as he has been trying to reveal himself to us all along. This hope is there for all of us, no matter how our faith has been shaken, no matter how we have betrayed our Lord. For the women, “returning from the tomb, … told all this to the eleven and to all the rest … but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” Except Peter. Peter who, mere days earlier, heard with the cock’s crow the fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction that he would deny him three times. “Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home wondering at what had happened.”
Keep holding on to the smallest scrap of faith. Bring your spices to anoint the body. And be ready to run and see the empty tomb.