Holy Saturday, probably one of the most forgotten about days in the whole bible. The day that heaven is silent and Jesus is just dead. The reality of Friday has sunk in and the hope of Sunday has not yet dawned. It is the day that embodies and encapsulates the grief of the disciples. It was the Sabbath, so the law dictated that they couldn’t do anything; but social custom suggested that they wouldn’t do anything but experience their grief. Hardly anything is written about this day in the Bible and it leaves me with the question of whether the disciples were so devastated by grief that they couldn’t put into words what they were feeling. Were the disciples showing us that there is sometimes a grief that can’t be spoken, where silence can be the only appropriate response?
There are a couple of points about Holy Saturday that I want to pick up on in today’s blog and the first is silence. I’m not a fan of silence, it unnerves me and isn’t a way that I connect with God; but silence can be a powerful response to and expression of grief. When someone dies there is so many emotions that can suddenly rush over us that it would be impossible for us to articulate all of them, and sometimes any of them. The gospel writers have hardly anything to say about Holy Saturday but in many ways I think that tells us more about what was going on and how they were feeling than if they had attempted to write everything down. Silence tells us so much more about the depth of their grief than words ever could. What do the disciples teach us then in their reaction to Holy Saturday? They reassure us that it’s ok not to have the answers, that it’s ok to not want to put things into words and it’s ok in the pain of our abandonment to remain silent. There is a much darker side to grief than anyone could ever know until they experience it. There are thoughts you wouldn’t think your mind capable of thinking and feelings that you would not think possible until they bubble up out of nowhere. There is a side to grief that cannot be spoken because we simply can’t find the words to communicate to the world how hurt we are. And it is this that I think the disciples are showing us in their reactions to this most painful of Sabbaths.
The second thing that I want to pick up on for today is the fact that the disciples experienced and expressed their grief together. We will never know what the disciples necessarily did on Holy Saturday but we can assume that they were together like they are on the morning of Easter Sunday. This group of friends who have travelled together and shared life for three years are now supporting each other through their darkest moment in the only way they can, by simply being together. In moments of grief it can be so easy to want to push people away and isolate ourselves from a world that we think doesn’t care. But being with people, as hard as it might be, can be a huge source of comfort and hope in an otherwise seemingly hostile world. In his Nooma video “Matthew” Rob Bell discusses this idea of being with people in their grief. He suggests that any reaction to grief, any reaction, is valid and natural. He also speaks about the ancient Jewish custom of sitting Shiva. The practice of being with a bereaved family and experiencing their grief with them, whether they want to talk about things or if they just want to sit in silence. He suggests that when we are mourning, God is sitting Shiva with us. There is a grief that can’t be spoken, but we are reassured with some people we don’t have to find the words. My best friend’s mum who I spoke about yesterday is amazing and can tell when all you need is her presence (and a hug) because you don’t have the words to say what’s going on. She understands that there are elements of my grief that will never be spoken but stands by me nonetheless.
So today, as we find ourselves in the valley between desolation and hope, between Good Friday and Easter Sunday; I encourage you to explore what this day means, maybe for the first time. Perhaps you need to find some silence, maybe you need to be encouraged that silence is completely justified, potentially you need a little permission to express your grief in a silence that speaks louder than words. But maybe today you need to be the source of comfort to a family or some friends who are on a journey of grief. Perhaps you need to be the person who is there and can understand what they’re telling you even when they’re not using words. There is a grief that can’t be spoken, but it doesn’t mean that it can’t be understood. And what we all must take from today is that God is sitting Shiva with us in our grief, drawing close to those who are mourning. Hope may come in the morning, but it is ok, for today, to feel desolate and not be able to put it into words.
Beautiful reflection Lex. I too don’t like silence and do not connect with God in silence. I’m conjoined in an essay on the subject at the moment and have found your thoughts useful. I think that a great deal of my struggle is that being brought up in a Christian tradition, we inherit a cultural hegemony (built on monasticism) that tells us silence is good and necessary for us to hear the voice of God. It’s one of those ‘discuss’ essays and the rebellious youth/youth worker in me plans to use the first half of the word count to say everything I don’t like about silence followed by a second half of blank pages, to let the silence speak in it’s own defence.
Your writing is delightful. I’ve spent an hour reading various posts and will return as and when I can. Speaking of which; I was directed here through an FB share by Carolyn Edwards mentioning a book ”Walking in their Shadow’, that I can’t find! Is this a book that is in process yet?