Reading: John 19:38-42
After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews.
Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
In his book Real Presences George Steiner writes:
There is one particular day in Western history about which neither historical record nor myth nor Scripture make report. It is a Saturday. And it has become the longest of days. (Faber and Faber, 1991: 231)
He goes on to write of Good Friday, well attested and known by Christians, but also experienced and understood by atheists as well:
This is to say that he [the atheist] knows of the injustice, of the interminable suffering, of the waste, of the brute enigma of ending, which so largely make up not only the historical dimension of the human condition, but the everyday fabric of our personal lives. (Faber and Faber, 1991: 231-2)
In the same way he writes of the hope and renewal of Easter Day, known to Christian and non-Christian alike. He then ends the book by speaking of the day that falls between them:
But ours is the long day’s journey of the Saturday. Between suffering, aloneness and unutterable waste on the one hand and the dream of liberation, of rebirth on the other…. (Faber and Faber, 1991: 232)
He anchors the aesthetic and artistic pursuits of humankind in this experience of the ‘long day’s journey’ of the Saturday. As Steiner is a Jew, this Sabbatarian understanding of the meaning of Holy Saturday should not surprise us. It is very much an in-between time. For modern Christians it has not resonated deeply. We have little empathy for days of waiting and emptiness. We tend to slide from the drama and tragedy of Good Friday directly to the delight and astonishment of Easter.
But many people in the world, as Steiner recognises, cannot live in the experience of Easter hope even if they can glimpse it. They may not be living personally in the pain or trauma of Good Friday, but neither can they pass into living the experience of Easter. Theirs IS the long day’s journey of the Saturday, not for one day of the year but as the stuff of their life. It is a day in which Christians are called to feel empathy and solidarity with the fallen world and all its citizens, our fellow creatures.
Yet somehow it is also on this day, Holy Saturday, that the deep mystery of resurrection begins to stir, and stamp its glory on the rock walls of the tomb. For those of us who seek to enter into all of this Week, Holy Saturday is a day of waiting and of wonder – of solidarity with, and empathy for, all who live the long day’s journey of the Saturday, but also of pondering the amazing mystery in which we have trusted, and which will soon dawn upon the world again in another Easter Day.