Monday, April 18, 2011


In the celebration of Holy Week and Easter, one day tends to get neglected -- Holy Saturday. It is easy to fall into the way of thinking that alongside the solemn liturgies of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, Saturday's special service is the Great Easter Vigil. This inclination is reinforced whenever the Vigil is celebrated early in the evening, as it quite often is nowadays. The Easter Vigil, however, is really the first service of Easter Day. Strictly, it should be observed sufficiently late at night for the first communion of Easter to be made after midnight, and thus fall within the season of Easter.

For many Christians the time between Good Friday and Easter is one of busy activity -- preparing special food to mark the end of Lent,  for example, decorating the church with flowers, or organizing children into an Easter egg hunt. Yet there is a great deal to be said for a different focus that gives  far more attention to the readings set for this day. These give Holy Saturday its special character as a time of waiting. Even if there is no church service to attend, we can still capture this character by setting aside time to read the lessons for ourselves, and instead of simply passing the time in preparation, create space for spiritual anticipation.

The Collect for Holy Saturday begins "o God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him . . ."  The poet Elizabeth Rooney (1924-99), a notable figure in the Episcopal women's 'Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross' wrote two poems that expand upon this spiritual waiting brilliantly. One of them reads as follows

A curiously empty day,
As if the world's life
Had gone underground.
The April sun
Warming the dry grass
Makes pale spring promises
But nothing comes to pass.

Relaxes into despair
As we remember our helplessness,
Remember him hanging there.
We have purchased the spices
But they must wait for tomorrow.
We shall keep today
For emptiness and sorrow.

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