Holy Saturday--Waiting for a New Chapter of Life

If you are an Episcopalian, you probably know that The Book of Common Prayer, the book which governs our worship practices, has a service for every day in Holy Week as we observe the final days in the life of Jesus. We begin with Palm Sunday remembering Jesus’ so called “triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We then gather on Monday and Tuesday for a simple, no frills service of Word and Sacrament remember Mary anointing Jesus for burial and Jesus’ words about his impending death; on Wednesday we have a Taize style service with simple chants and prayers as we remembers Judas’ betrayal; on Maundy Thursday we remember Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper and his washing of the disciples’ feet; on Good Friday we remember his crucifixion; on Saturday evening we celebrate the first service of Easter with the Great Vigil.

But there is one service we don’t do: Holy Saturday, a simple service of Word and prayers. We don’t gather as a community to remember that between Good Friday and Easter, there is a pregnant pause. We don’t stop to remember that Jesus is dead, and that at this point in the story Easter is not a foregone conclusion. Why don’t we celebrate this service?  I don’t really have a good answer other than that we obviously don’t think that it is all that important to give this pause between death and resurrection its due. We have probably also surrendered to logistical considerations. On Holy Saturday there is a lot of work to be done to get ready for Easter. Flowers have to be set up. We have a children’s prayer walk at 10:00am followed by an Easter egg hunt. Not to mention that the clergy and staff who coordinate all the Holy Week services are pretty fried by this time, and one more service might do us in.

But you know what, I think there is a deeper reason we don’t do it: like all human beings we don’t like to admit that there is a period of waiting—often months and years of waiting—between the death of our dreams and the dawn of a new chapter. You see, eventually every person who has tried to follow Jesus will be on her way to bury him. Eventually all our hopes and dreams come crashing down. I have had periods in my ministry when things just fell apart. My great ideas didn’t work. My dream project turned out to be a nightmare. I have had periods in my life when the energy just left and I wondered when it would ever return. And what I would have to admit is that I hate waiting for the waiting to end. I want God to raise me from the dead and give me a new chapter, and do it yesterday.

Holy Saturday is all about acknowledging that we have to wait for God—and that the “third day” may be a long time in coming—and is not our doing. Whether we ever celebrate this service, we are invited today to wait as a reminder that what happens on Easter is not a foregone conclusion. Just as a new chapter of life is not a foregone conclusion. Just as recovering from the loss of a spouse is not a foregone conclusion. Just as renewed energy for ministry is not a foregone conclusion.  Just as renewed hope for our world is not a foregone conclusion.

Psalm 130 is appointed for this day, and it says it all: Things have fallen apart for this person of faith and she cries out: “Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice; Let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.”

Will God hear and act? All she can do is wait: “I wait for the lord; my soul waits for him; in his word is my hope.”

We too wait today for God to hear our prayers for a new chapter. All we can do is wait, and put our hope in God’s word.