Holy Saturday

"Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid.Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment." —Luke 23:50-56

Holy Saturday is that day of rest - the in-between day - the day without a schedule - the day of waiting. It is the day that allows us to sit with our grief.

Years of responding to the scenes of suicide has taught me a great deal about grief. When I first started working as a suicide first-responder, I thought a lot about what I would say when I was with those who were grief-stricken and overwhelmed at the news of the sudden and traumatic loss of one they have loved. They might be the first to have discovered the body. They might have seen death up close and personal. They might be in shock. They might be on the verge of collapse. The tools that I had for doing my work were words. While the investigators gathered evidence and the officers secured the scene and made sure that any weapons were safe, my job was to be with the survivors and witnesses and grief-stricken family and friends. I wondered what words I would use.

What I learned is that often words are simply not necessary. There are times when presence is more important than words. “I’m here so you won’t be alone.” Sometimes the grieving person would say, “I don’t know what I am supposed to do.” I would say, “You don’t have to do anything right now. I’ll stay until we are sure that you have a safe place to be and someone to be with you. This is not the time to be alone.” Sometimes the grieving person would say, “I don’t know what to say.” I might respond, “You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to remember anything that I say, either.”

In the depths of grief, sometimes presence is what is needed the most.

The Gospels don’t report the details of where the disciples went following the death of Jesus. We know from later stories that some of them planned to travel from Jerusalem. It was on the seven-mile walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus where two of the disciples met the resurrected Jesus. We don’t know where they had been before the day of their walk. We do, however, have a sense that they stayed together. There are references to “our group.” We also know that the 12 named disciples weren’t the only ones. There were women with them, too. The women were the ones who prepared the spices and who would be given the duties of dealing with the body. It was, however, the sabbath - a day of rest.

First, they did nothing except wait.

Grief is like that and perhaps even more like that in this time of pandemic. I have spoken over the phone with grieving family members who want to plan a funeral and who would normally have the funeral within a week of the death, but who begin to think in terms of a later memorial service - later when gatherings can be resumed. Even the process of planning a funeral can be stretched out and the days between can be long days. For those who go ahead with a funeral, but do so with a very small gathering and an online-broadcast of the service there are many details, but those details have to be handled by others and it takes time.

First, all they can do is wait.

As I often told those in the unexpected crush of suicide grief, “This is not a time to be alone.” I worked with friends and family members to figure out who would be with those overwhelmed by grief so that they were not alone. I don’t know how many times I’ve said, “What we need from you is to take care of each other.”

As I look back on my life I can remember those who sat with me in times of grief. There presence has made a huge difference in my life. I don’t remember what they said. I don’t remember what we talked about. I remember that they came.

Holy Saturday is a day for us to practice. It comes every year. It is not a day of doing, but rather a day of being. We come together with each other just to be together. We wait. No big dinners, yet. No big parties, yet. Those are in our future. This year, especially, it is a time of waiting. We long to be with our friends. We long to embrace those we love. We long for the dinners together and the joy shared. But it is not time for those things yet. A few more folks need to be vaccinated. A bit more time is required to make sure that everyone is safe. The pandemic is not yet over. So we wear our face masks and we stay where we are. And we wait.

Like the disciples on Holy Saturday, we wait. Today is a good day to reach out to those who are alone to make sure that they are OK. Perhaps a phone call or two would be in order. Today is a good day to make sure that no one is alone. Today is a day to take care of one another.

We wait.