Are we there yet?

By Bryan Cones| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
Article Saints, Feasts, and Seasons
Even Jesus had to spend some time--Holy Saturday to be exact--waiting to see if things were going to work out. In this column from the archives, Bryan Cones explores the importance of the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

What will you be doing April 15?

Of course, in the United States it's tax day, but this year it's also Holy Saturday--you know, that boring day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, when we just, well, wait. Good Friday is full of processions, Passion plays, long liturgies, grand silence. Easter Sunday begins with a late night of readings, Baptisms, and alleluias, and rounds out with chocolate bunnies and baked ham. But Holy Saturday is empty, quiet; even Jesus doesn't do anything but be dead.

It's too bad, though, that this whole day of nothing gets so overlooked. After all, most of our lives are Holy Saturdays, the time between the hard knocks and the great triumphs, between bad news and glad tidings, between death and resurrection.

I think my grandmother understands this. At 92 she has said good-bye to most of the people she has loved: her parents, her husband, both sisters, countless aunts and uncles and cousins, and finally her dearest childhood friend and longest companion. And after almost 40 years as a widow, I think it's safe to say she's ready to rejoin my grandfather on her own Easter Sunday. But for now she waits.

My friend's father also "gets" Holy Saturday. After being successfully treated for cancer, his tumor reappeared. His doctors say they should see how fast it grows before they decide how to treat it. So he waits, too.

And I'll bet the people of New Orleans are experiencing this Holy Saturday in a way they never have, after being drowned in a sea of waves and covered in a mountain of ruin, then finally papered over with neglect. They're waiting, too, though many probably wonder if there's going to be an Easter after the storm. And even though most of them aren't Christian, those who endured a devastating tsunami a scant 15 months ago are probably living Holy Saturday more profoundly than most Catholics ever will.

Not all our Holy Saturdays are so dramatic or terrible, of course. Students wait for report cards, high school seniors for acceptance (or rejection) letters. The poor wait in daily lines for food, for shelter, for almost everything. Anxious parents spend weekly Holy Saturday nights on the couch, waiting for beloved, if unpredictable, teens to make it home safely.

Yet for all its resonance in our lives, poor Holy Saturday barely warrants mention. Give us Good Friday, when we can nail our troubles, our sorrows, and our sins with Jesus to the cross. Give us Easter's joy--tell us were going to live forever. But don't leave us here on Saturday, with turncoat disciples locked in a room, waiting for the temple guards to come for them. Don't leave us with Mary in the depths of a mother's grief, with the women watching at the tomb. Don't bury us with Jesus in that cold, dark cave, wondering if we're ever going to get out.

But there's no Easter Sunday without Holy Saturday, and it asks for something not easy to give: hope. Like it or not, we know the crosses are coming; we know we're going to die. It's said there's more to the story, but in the end here we are, waiting for resurrection, whether in the form of a job or a hand up or an all-clear medical test. And more often than not, hope is all we've got.

Of course, it is called Holy Saturday for a reason. There must be something important about waiting, about being in-between, if God thought it an important part of our lives to share. After all, Jesus spent 30 years waiting for his "hour," and he didn't just leap right back up after the Crucifixion either. He had to be mourned and washed, wrapped and buried, left with the dead. Those who loved him had to let him go, presumably for good. And even Jesus had to wait for what God had in store. As the famous German theologian Karl Rahner is alleged to have said, perhaps the most surprised person on that first Easter Sunday was Jesus himself. It may be that even Jesus had only hope left to cling to as he breathed his last.

All this might leave us feeling a little sad about Holy Saturday--hopeful or not. But I'd like to think there's another group of people who understand this holy waiting. One of them is close to me, expecting her first child, waiting with my brother for the new life they hope to nurture together. In dark silence--more than a day to be sure--God is surely working another Easter miracle. And that makes my Holy Saturdays a little easier to bear.

This article appeared in the April 2006 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 71, No. 4, page 50).