In the Hell of Life, Holy Saturday

14th century manuscript illustrating the harrowing of hell

The Harrowing of Hell, 14th century (source)

“When one door closes another opens,” goes an old and popular saying. But what about that time in between, after one door closes but before another opens? What do we do then? As a friend of mine once said, “It’s hell when you are waiting in the hallway.” That’s where we are today. The door on Good Friday has closed. Jesus is dead. The door on Easter has not yet opened. The tomb is sealed and guarded. This is Holy Saturday, in-between time, tomb time.

Many, perhaps most, will not remember or celebrate this day, but, at some point, we all live this day. We all come to the Holy Saturday of our life, the hell of our life, and it always involves a death of some kind: the death of loved one, the death of a relationship, the death of a dream. Regardless of how it comes about someone or something has died and all the doors remain closed.

Our reading from Lamentations describes this well. We have been “brought into darkness without any light.” We are “besieged and enveloped with bitterness and tribulation.” We are walled in and cannot escape. We call and cry for help but our prayer is shut out. We are homeless. There is nothing but the tomb.

This day seems like anything but holy. Where is Jesus on Holy Saturday? Reread the Apostles’ Creed. Remind yourself that on this day “He descended to the dead” or as another translation says, “He descended into hell.” Holy Saturday is when Christ descends into the hell of our life, breaking the bonds of death, and setting the captives free. Holy Saturday is the day death and Hades tremble in fear, and regret ever having tried to take captive the author and creator of life.

It is tempting in the Holy Saturday of our lives to run away, to leave the tomb and just get to Easter. But the tomb is the birthplace of Easter, “the workshop of resurrection.” Tragedy, sorrow, and death do not simply go away or get replaced. They are transformed. In that holy workshop Christ transforms tragedy into triumph, sorrow into joy, and death into life. We must, therefore, remain present to the tomb of Holy Saturday. That’s what Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are doing.

They are “sitting opposite the tomb.” They do not say anything; there is not much to say on this day. They do not do anything; there is not much to do on this day. Holy Saturday is a time of patience. This is about more than just waiting or passing time. It is the willingness to trust that there is more going on than we see or understand. It is reminding ourselves that “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.” It is remaining present so that when another door opens, and it will, we will be there to walk through it.

Do you remember who were the first to see the open tomb of Christ? Mary Magdalene and the other Mary.

“By death He conquered death, and to those in the graves He granted life!”

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This sermon is for Holy Saturday and is based on Matthew 27:57-66 and Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-24.

6 thoughts on “In the Hell of Life, Holy Saturday

  1. The Lord descends into hell
    “Something strange is happening-there is silence on earth today. a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The whole earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.”
    ~from an ancient homily on Holy Saturday

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