Christ Carrying the Cross

Christ Carrying the Cross

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Brief Thoughts for a (Holy) Saturday

"Icon of the Commemoration of Holy Saturday"
Yesterday, I waxed ineloquent on the first verse of the hymn "Here Hangs a Man Discarded," and considered what it has to say about our Good Friday experiences and theology. Today, I'm going to take the same approach to the second verse and tackle the oft-overlooked topic that is Holy Saturday. Known as Black Saturday in some traditions, there has long been--from what I understand--a certain disavowal of this day in the Western, and especially Protestant church. The Eastern Orthodox by contrast still commemorates this as the day that Jesus descended into hell, following the Apostles' Creed of the Cappadocian Fathers (Tad DeLay has a fun post on John Piper's recent Cappadocian stumble here). 

For the most part though, Saturday is just that awkward lump in the middle where everybody forgets about the Crucifixion and maybe starts preparing food for dinner on Sunday. Perhaps the words of Brian Wren in his hymn can allow us some perspective on Holy Saturday's perspective and what it may mean for moving from death into resurrection:

Yet here is help and comfort
for lives by comfort bound,
when drums of dazzling progress
give strangely hollow sound:
Life, emptied of all meaning,
drained out in bleak distress,
can share in broken silence
our deepest emptiness;

You may recall that the previous verse ends with the question of whether or not the Godforsaken Christ can "still bring a useful word / when faith and hope seem phantoms / and every hope absurd?" Although maybe not the strong words of comfort we may desire in response to the meaninglessness of death, this verse offers the possibility of life in spite of, or perhaps even because of. The narrator indicates that the "dazzling progress" we might traditionally put our faith in is without substance, hollow. Progress encourages us to escape, to look past our troubled circumstances into the false promise of a future without the existential threats of death or absence.

What the second half of the verse offers instead is not a verbal trick, an emotional sleight of hand, but the simple affirmation that the space of abandonment truly is a painful one. This reminds me of a question somebody asked me a month or so ago about what gods I believe in, and what gods (I think) believe in me. To the first part I answered that I viewed myself as responsible to the insistence of God, the infinite demand which opens me to the possibility of loving relationship with the other. To the second part I replied, and I quote: "The notion of a god 'believing in me' seems a bit like New Age bullshit meant to make me feel better about me, which I don't think helps anybody." I feel like this may be the difference between a radical Christianity I can be a part of and the frankly New Age-y vibe that permeates so much of the current church discussion.

For me, the key word in this section comes in the second-to-last line. That word is "share"; it's a word that sticks out among the seemingly all-encompassing desolation of Holy Saturday. Even in the "bleak distress" there is the possibility of a human connection that does not bridge the gap of the abyss, but rather lives into it, allowing the gap to become a paradoxical meeting place where life in spite of death can take place. Life qua resurrection.


Until tomorrow.

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