As a child I loved Holy Saturday. It was a day of Much Anticipation. The more sad and somber liturgies were completed, as was the long Lent and the fasting of Good Friday. Night would bring the wonderful Easter Vigil. I loved beginning in complete darkness, then the lighting of a single flame, the spreading of the light from candle to candle, and then finally the whole church lit up at the Gloria!
I looked forward to going to sleep, anticipating the arrival of the Easter Bunny, who promised plentiful chocolate and all sorts of other treats!
Holy Saturday was also the day of the annual village Easter Egg Hunt. We would eagerly climb the hill to the Tribute Gardens, armed with empty baskets, to search for colored Easter eggs. Hidden among the newly green grass, the flowers about to bloom, between rocks and moss-covered tree roots, we would find sweet treasures. There was something about the search itself, about seeking and finding, that thrilled my young heart, then and even now.
Of course the first Holy Saturday was not a day of anticipation, but only grief. It was not a day of finding but of great loss. It was not a day of new life and beginnings, but of the realization of the stunning end of everything hoped for.
Locked in their homes for fear of what might come next, filled with self-reproach and blame for their own failings, the disciples hid away, despairing and dismayed, their hearts sealed as surely as the stone-blocked sepulcher.
Why had God allowed this? How had it happened that the one they thought of as Savior could not in the end even save Himself? The Kingdom of God had come to an end.
Except in one heart.
Only Our Lady had a heart of holy anticipation. Only she held the faith, not letting it waver or slip, even through the cracks of her broken heart.
For Mary the mystery was not Why? or How? but Who?
Mary knew the goodness of God. She knew that the goodness of God was greater than what she saw, than the dead body she cradled in her arms and then laid forsaken in the tomb. She, who was the first to receive and accept the message of the Incarnation, carried this faith on through the empty stillness of Holy Saturday.
She must have pondered anew the words of the angel, promising Emmanuel, God with us. She knew that Promise was not past tense.
She must have seen again His human body, so tiny then, for the first but not last time swaddled in linens. The myrrh from the Magi—did she summon again its scent? A strange gift to celebrate new life!
She must have recalled that first time Jesus went missing for three days, and how her heart had searched for Him, how even then He was “about my Father’s business.”
She must have remembered His words at Cana, “my hour has not yet come.” His hour has now come, but she knows it is not past. The joy of the wine at the wedding feast was only a foreshadowing.
During this day, she alone “heard the words of the Lord and kept them,” taking to heart when He said, “I will rise after three days.”
Her broken heart held together the faith of the whole church, for the whole world. Saint John Paul II: “After Jesus had been laid in the tomb, Mary alone remains to keep alive the flame of faith, preparing to receive the joyful and astonishing announcement of the Resurrection.”
On this Holy Saturday, we are invited to remain in the heart of Mary, to keep vigil with her, to allow her hope to kindle our own.
Even as we are locked in our homes, and even as, for many of us, the Body of Christ is locked away in closed churches, we are invited to be with her in trust and peace.
We are invited to remember that God is even bigger than what we have seen so far: that He is still bringing greater good from evil, still resurrecting, still making all things new. We are invited to seek Him, anticipating the joy of the sweetness in finding Him, even in unexpected places.
Photo by Grant Whitty on Unsplash