He Suffered Death And Was Buried

By Br Mark O’Connor FMS, 23 October 2020
The Pietà of Villeneuve-lès-Avignon by Enguerrand Quarton (1411–1466). Image: Wikimedia Commons.


When someone close to us dies and is buried it can be overwhelming. One woman I know said after her mother’s death that she fantasised about going off by herself to a cave where she could be alone, and people could just show up a couple of times a day and leave some food at the entrance and then leave without saying a word to her. She just wanted to escape into silence.

Instead, she felt she had to continue at her job as though nothing had happened, even though her heart was not in it. Her heart was broken in grief. Her heart, shall we say, was going through Holy Saturday. But nobody knew what to do for her or even with her.

The first followers of Jesus had the same experience. Jesus really died and was buried. There is nothing more certain. It was not a ‘pretend’ moment. Grief filled his disciples’ hearts.

In the Apostolic witness, the first Holy Saturday is remembered by its absence. Some of the first disciples saw the body in the tomb late in the day immediately before the Sabbath, then some of his disciples saw the tomb without his body, early in the day immediately after the Sabbath. The actual Sabbath day is missing in the narrative.

What Jesus experienced during that time we can only imagine. He had suffered humiliation, brutal physical abuse and even physical death. All this after having had the most extraordinary success as a teacher and healer, with such a large following of disciples and others who believed that he was ‘the chosen one of God’ whom the Jewish community had expected. What a reversal! And in the tomb, what then, on Holy Saturday? How did the transformation occur? We are not told. Some aspects of our transitions are and remain mysterious, even to us.

Mostly, it seems to me, our lives are lived precisely in this type of Holy Saturday, where joy and sorrow, bondage and liberation, life and death tangle; a day that unfolds forever between the cross and the rising Son.

Holy Saturday is simply the day when nothing happens. Holy Saturday, that in-between day, is the day we know best.

When we are in our own internal Holy Saturday experiences, we know we need to be still and to trust in the Spirit to get us through to the other side of whatever is happening. Remembering the mystery of Holy Saturday, remembering that somehow, beneath the surface of what we know or can imagine, hidden from our ego’s sight, miracles can happen. We can be transformed.

We all have seasons in our lives when there is nothing we can ‘do’ except choose to lie ourselves down in the tomb next to Jesus and trust, however blindly, that something mysterious, beyond our current capacity to describe or define, will bring about a new future.

We follow the way of Jesus when we choose to become his disciples, and this means we follow him through the grave.

In all of this we need the healing power of silence.

There is nothing in this world that resembles God as much as silence,’ wrote Meister Eckhart. Holy Saturday is a day of rest, of silence. Even God—or especially God, it seems—was silent that day.

We live in a noisy world where mercy and tenderness are in short supply. A conflict-driven and often sensationalist mass media are attempting to bombard us with their ‘spin’.

More than ever we Catholics need to live the Creed, entering into the mystery that God in Jesus really died and was buried. We are called to live with the holy silence of our God, whose Spirit will never abandon us.

This article is part of a series of reflections entitled ‘I Believe…Help My Unbelief’: Meditations on the Creed by Br Mark O’Connor FMS.

Br Mark O’Connor FMS is the Vicar for Communications in the Diocese of Parramatta.


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