In my Roman Catholic faith tradition, today is Holy Saturday, the day between Good Friday, which commemorates the crucifixion and death of Jesus, and Easter, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. It is a between time – neither part of Lent nor part of the Easter season – a time of waiting.
This Lent, I have read a number of pieces about how it was the women disciples that accompanied Jesus on the way of the cross while nearly all the male disciples faded away. The women also became the first witnesses to the resurrection because they were the ones going to the tomb to anoint Jesus’s body in accordance with Jewish burial custom.
The reason that the women could not do this ministry immediately is that they needed to observe the sabbath, the day of rest from work that is such an important part of the Jewish faith tradition. That particular sabbath was an even more solemn one because it was during the eight days of the Passover celebration. So from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday, the women rested and mourned and waited to prepare Jesus’s body with perfumed oils and burial cloths.
The women (or Mary Magdalene alone – the gospel accounts differ) must have made their preparations during the night because they were at the tomb near dawn. Finding the tomb empty, they became the first witnesses to the resurrection. In John’s gospel, Christ appears to Mary Magdalene and directly commissions her to “go and tell” which is the essential apostolic mission.
Today, I am reflecting about Jesus who was also resting on that sabbath – although resting in death at that point. Yesterday, at Good Friday services, the deacon reminded us that Lamb of God was one of the oldest titles for Jesus. The coinciding of his death with Passover, when the lamb is slain in commemoration of the protection of the firstborn of the Israelites by marking their doorposts with lamb’s blood, is a powerful reminder of his Jewish identity and faithfulness to the covenant and his mission.
I don’t think that Jesus meant to found a new church. In his earthly ministry, he reached out and healed and spoke and ate with those who were on the margins of society, including Samaritans and others who were not Jews. It is a human tragedy that religion has been used to separate people, to perceive others as enemies, to perpetrate violence and oppression. I believe that God is a spirit of love, revealed in various ways to different cultures throughout time. Like Pope Francis, I appreciate all people of good will, whether they belong to a faith tradition, spiritual or philosophical practice, or not. I recount religious and spiritual topics here from time to time because this is part of who I am; I do not intend to imply that my belief should be yours or is superior to yours or anything else of the kind.
But back to today…
I’m waiting. Tonight, after sundown, we will begin the Easter vigil by lighting a new fire and blessing the Paschal candle which will be used throughout the year, including for baptisms and funerals. Later in the mass, we will use the candle to bless baptismal waters and new members of the church will receive the sacraments of initiation. We will celebrate Eucharist together, sing songs with alleluias, and rejoice!
The waiting makes it that much more special when it arrives.