Holy Saturday, Easter Vigil
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint him. Very early when the sun had risen, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb. They were saying to one another, "Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?" When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back; it was very large. On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed. He said to them, "Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples and Peter, ´He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.´"
Introductory Prayer: Lord Jesus, you loved your followers, yet you did not spare them from suffering. It was their love for you that made them suffer all the more on that first, bleak Holy Saturday. I thank you for the faith you have instilled in me by which I can find meaning in suffering and hope while men seem to have overcome you, and many seem to abandon you. I thank you for the gift of love that makes me want to ask for the grace of being faithful and of doing something to make you loved and known.
Petition: Lord, Jesus, enable me to be your true disciple, to persevere in your way and to have the strength to bear witness to you in all I do.
1. The Darkness of Holy Saturday. After they hurriedly buried Jesus and closed the tomb, the disciples made haste to gather in the upper room for the Sabbath, a day on which it would not be possible for them to visit the tomb and embalm Jesus. How was that long, most probably sleepless night, and the equally long day and night that followed? What thoughts went through their minds, what did they talk about…, did they even talk at all? We can only guess, but one thing we know for sure, what was not in their minds or in any way in their expectations—the thought that Jesus might rise from the dead. One way or another, the direct “Jesus experience” for them was over. He was dead, definitely dead, the soldier putting the lance through his side left no doubt about it, and none of them at that moment was capable of seeing beyond that. They were left with vivid memories made bitter by their dashed hopes. His mother Mary was likely the exception, but there is no mention of her. It must have been a terrible night followed by an equally terrible day and night. Perhaps in their hearts they repeated over and over Jesus’ words from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?”
There are times of darkness in our lives when it seems everything that before made sense no longer does. Even times when it seems Christ has been swept away and no longer counts. Times when the cost of following him seems too much, too contradictory, too difficult. However, at those times in our lives we have much more to go on than the apostles and disciples had on Holy Saturday; in all likelihood we will never touch bottom or be tested to the same extent as they. We must admire these disciples, chosen by Christ, for the trials they suffered.
2. A persevering friendship. Whatever else might have been shattered or damaged—their faith, their hope—one characteristic of their following remains intact: their love. It is their love that draws them back to the tomb at the earliest opportunity. Their attachment to Jesus is intense, personal and driving. After their sleepless nights and their observance of the Sabbath rest, they just had to go to the tomb, some slightly earlier than the others, to express their “hopeless love” for Jesus, for in their eyes there was nothing he could do for them now and it was all about what they could do for him even though he was dead. The depth of this human bond of love is moving.
It can console us too when the reality of death strikes someone we love, for it reminds us that everyone who dies dies only in the body, while his soul is eternal and awaits the resurrection to be reunited with his body. We pray for that soul, for the pardon on mercy of Christ who died for him so that he can enter into rest with the same Christ.
3. Fidelity rewarded. It helps us to note that that Jesus himself does not appear to the apostles but rather sends his angel to speak to the women and to send them in turn with word for the apostles. He himself would appear to them later on, but from the very first moments of this completely new stage in his life and that of his disciples he institutes a pattern that will be essential to his Church from that moment on: his use of intermediaries to make his will known to us. In this instance it is an angel; later, after Pentecost, it will be his disciples themselves that will bring his truth to others, and Jesus will go on to build his Church around the successors of his apostles….
Jesus rewards his disciples’ love with the gift of himself. Whoever seeks finds, but like the women sometimes we seek in the wrong place, and then he himself comes out to meet us or sends those who can lead us to the true answer to our prayers. Sometimes like them we seek too little: they went out to look for the dead body of Jesus and the consolation of expressing their love for him in some way by embalming him and giving him a proper burial, and what God wanted to give them instead was the living Jesus, the conqueror of sin and death, free from the corruption of the tomb. Much of our struggle in our Christian life consists in enlarging our hearts and souls to receive the greater gifts that God wants to give us, growing beyond our own small ideas of happiness and fruitfulness.
Conversation: (Let us speak to Jesus, opening our heart and mind to his fidelity and wisdom, placing our trust in him and asking him what special grace he wants to give us now. Let us remind ourselves and tell him we trust in him, and let us examine with him our attitude towards following him.)
1. Where do I seek comfort when things get difficult?
2. Am I persevering in my friendship with Christ in my difficulties?
3. Am I really open to whatever gift God wants to give me, even though it means dying to myself?