Holy Saturday

Our county hs the longest-running LOSS team in the nation. LOSS stands for Local Outreach to Survivors of Suicide. Team members are dispatched by the emergency center just like police or firefighters. We respond to places where a suicide has occurred to provide support and assistance to those left behind. LOSS team members are survivors ourselves. We have felt the pain of the death of a loved one by suicide. Research has shown that when support is delivered quickly, those who survive are less likely to die by suicide themselves. Team members provide counseling referrals, information for planning funerals, arranging for cleaning of affected areas, and much more.

My volunteer work with the LOSS team is combined with my regular work as a pastor. I am often called who a family member is approaching death. I frequently walk through the last hours of someone’s life with their family. My life has provided me with frequent and regular opportunity to spend time with people who are in the initial stages of grief.

I have learned that the first moments after learning of the death of a loved one is not a time for excessive words. While there are a few things that need to be communicated, the grieving person isn’t going to be able to remember much of what I say. And the last thing that someone caught up in the throes of loss needs is a stranger who pokes their face into the midst of this very private moment. I have learned about giving people space and making brief initial visits. I almost always make a telephone check in within one or two days to provide more information and to listen to the reactions, thoughts and questions of the grieving person.

When someone dies it is natural for the world to slow down for a while. Grieving people take a pause. There will be plenty of things to do. Calls need to be made. Arrangements have to be done. Meals must be planned. Guests must receive accommodations. Pictures and mementoes need to be sorted. Preparations must be completed. But first, there is a pause.

The pause for Jesus’ friends came in part because of the traditions and rituals of the people. The Sabbath was day of many restrictions. Adhering to the commandment to take a sabbath every week and to refrain from work, faithful Jews didn’t engage in everyday tasks on that day. Jesus died on the evening before Sabbath. His body was taken down from the cross and laid in a tomb. Then they waited. The cleaning of thee body and the preparation for burial would have to wait until the morning after the Sabbath. No handling of human remains, or of the remains of any animal, was allowed on the Sabbath.

So they waited.

The Bible does not report what the grieving disciple did, but I’ve been around grieving people enough to know. They sat, sometimes awkwardly. Some may have gotten up and paced. Some would have cried. A few would tell a story here or there. They remembered.

Today is that day of pause and waiting. The day after the crucifixion. The day observed by Jews and Seventh-Day Adventists as the Sabbath.

Only this year things are different. Sundown might bring the official end to the Sabbath, but we will continue our waiting tomorrow. In fact, we don’t know how long we will be waiting. With a pandemic at our door, with the death toll surpassing 2,000 a day in our country, we don’t know how long we will need t practice physical distancing.

In the practice of the church, Easter lasts for 50 days. It is the traditional period between the resurrection of Jesus and the day when disciples gathered in an upper room felt the presence of the Holy Spirit so intensely that they were able to communicate beyond the barriers of language. Those 50 days have become, for us, an expression that the Easter message is very difficult to understand and very difficult to communicate. It takes time. Seven weeks of Easter messages. Despite the popular notion that Easter is a day that is here and gone, faithful Christians understand that it is a Season that takes time to observe.

My experience with those who have experienced loss is that seven weeks is insufficient to process the grief. It takes even longer. It makes more sense to measure in years than by counting days. But fifty days is long enough for the experience to begin to feel real. It is long enough for a grieving person to realize the finality of death. It is long enough for those left behind to know that life will never go back to normal. A new normal may emerge, but the experience is not something that a person can “get over.”

So we wait, and as we wait it becomes clear to us that things will not go back to the way they were. We and our world are being permanently changed by this experience. We can’t yet imagine what shape all of the changes will take, but we know that things will be different. Our health care system, our economy, our attitude towards work and jobs, our recreational activities, our very lives are being challenged and reevaluated in this process.

Some of us are fortunate enough to have experienced a lifetime of Holy Saturdays. Some of us know about this pause and this waiting and this not knowing what newness will emerge. We have been practicing Holy Saturday for years and years. Others may not be as comfortable with the waiting. They are so used to doing things that they think that what needs to be done today is to get up and get going and get things done. There will be things to do. It will take hard work to recover from this experience, but the doing has to wait. It is not yet time for action. It is time for waiting.

And do we will wait - whether we want to or not.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!