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Easter Saturday – the dark in-between

Every Saturday will eventually usher in a Sunday. Each winter will finally give birth to spring.


Growing up, Easter was always a special season of the year – partly because we often went away as a family and partly because of chocolate! Yet I was also mindful of everything else that Easter was about.

When we didn’t go away, Good Friday was always marked with appropriate solemnity and Easter Sunday with joyful celebration. And smack in between was Saturday – an ordinary day, with shopping, household chores and playing in the neighbourhood.

Now, I am becoming more aware of what that first Saturday might have been like for those who loved Jesus. They didn’t have the assurance of an Easter Sunday as we have had for over 2000 years. What would it have been like for them?

The one they loved, who had been their hope and their future, had just been cruelly executed and placed in a tomb – a tomb heavily ‘guarded’ with a massive stone.

What do you do when your heart is in anguish, when your hopes and joys have been shattered, and when you really don’t know what comes next?

What do you do when your heart is in anguish, when your hopes and joys have been shattered, and when you really don’t know what comes next?

We do know that Easter Sunday follows Good Friday, even if we have to wait for a day! Many of us also know what it is like to live between the anguish of death and loss, and the not-yet-seen and barely believable future of hope.

As we ponder Easter Saturday, an ordinary day in between two most extraordinary days, we have the opportunity to reflect on how we hold the unknown, the darkness, and the pain of loss and death when we don’t yet see new life. This is a time of waiting, hoping, of believing this moment is not all there is.

As I reflect on this in-between space, the darkness of waiting in the unknown between death and resurrection, my thoughts drift to all that can happen in such spaces of darkness and uncertainty, to all that might be happening when we see nothing and have no sense of what’s going on, or even if anything is going on.

The natural world

The caterpillar in the chrysalis springs to mind, slowly turning into an unrecognisable mush before emerging as a vibrant butterfly who flutters her wings and takes flight into places we cannot follow.

I think of planting daffodil bulbs in autumn when other plants seem to be losing leaves and slowing down so that we can experience a display of beauty and delight in springtime. We don’t see what is happening deep in the earth during these weeks and months, but surely some life force is at work to bring forth the spring flowers!

There are animals that retreat to dark places in the winter where they go into a state of hibernation. During this time their body temperature drops (sometimes almost as low as -3C!), their heart rates slow and they live off the fat stored in their bodies – in some cases up to seven months! This is one way for many animals to survive adverse winter weather. They may look like they are unconscious, even dead, but amazing physiological changes are happening within their bodies and their brains to keep them alive – and to re-energise them as the weather warms up.

We think of babies being formed in the womb (Psalm 139:13-15) and broken bones healing and being knit together within the darkness of our bodies. Before modern medical imaging, human eyes could not see this happening, but there was an innate knowing that in the darkness and waiting, something new and something healing was happening – and that in time, it would be revealed.

The story of God’s people has much to say about both waiting and darkness: There is Jonah’s experience in the whale – a dark, liminal space that becomes transformative for him and the people of Nineveh.

I think of Mary and Martha during the days that Lazarus was in the tomb, knowing that Jesus could have come to prevent his death, but didn’t. I imagine their anguish and grief.

Then Jesus did come, declared himself to be the resurrection and life (John 17) and proved that he was indeed exactly that! What greater transformation could there have been, not only for Lazarus but also for his sisters?

Awareness of seasons

These experiences show us there is far more happening in the dark in-between spaces than we can ever imagine or plan for. Yet, in the pain and suffering that we still endure, how do we hold on?

How do we keep going between the anguish and despair of a Good Friday and the new life of Easter Sunday, when we don’t know how long the dark in-between will be, and when we can’t see what the new life and hope might look like?

We can draw some insight from what we read in the Gospel stories. We know that Jesus predicted his resurrection, but it seemed beyond comprehension to those who loved him that new life could possibly come from the horrific events leading to his death and burial.

To them it seemed that dead was dead, buried was buried, and there could be no other outcome. So, they clung to what they did know and grieved together.

The women offered each other comfort as they gathered their spices and planned to go to the tomb as soon as the Sabbath was over – comfort in sharing their pain together, and in holding to rituals and traditions that were meaningful to them.

We have all experienced such times of darkness, waiting, and the utter uncertainty of any hope in the future. St John of the Cross, a Spanish priest and mystic of the late 1500s, described such experiences as a “dark night of the soul”.

It is the awareness that these in-between times are seasons and that the journey toward the light and deeper union with God is still happening, even when we cannot see the progress, that gives us hope.

Every Saturday will eventually usher in a Sunday. Each winter will finally give birth to spring.

Being able to hold on to what we do know, and seeking wise and compassionate companionship along the way, enables us to sit in the darkness and to wait for the dawning of a new day, a new season and a new hope.

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