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Saturday Mourning


Now’s the time for mirth and play,
Saturday’s an holiday;
Praise to heaven unceasing yield,
I’ve found a lark’s nest in the field.

 Christopher Smart, Hymns for the Amusement of Children 

A Bird’s-Nest-On-the-Ground Kind of Day

I don’t know about you, but finding a bird’s nest on the ground wouldn’t excite me like it once did. When I was a youngster, it would have been a great discovery, quickly occupying a high, holy spot on my bookshelf. Now it would be shredded under my mower.

But Christopher Smart’s modest 18th century rhyme captures at least one contemporary truth: Saturday is special. Monday is blue, Wednesday is humped, but Saturday is a cut-loose, have-fun day. We may not consider it “an holiday,” but the mere mention of it sparks mid-week hope for the working class masses. In our frenetic, postmodern world, the promise of Saturday still stirs romantic, leisurely images: gliding sailboats, dancing kites, picnics on grassy slopes. In reality, most of us do yardwork, catch up on errands or, in my case, fall asleep on the couch during an afternoon ballgame. It’s clear, though, that Saturday ranks up there with Christmas and Thanksgiving as an idealized day on the Western calendar.


The Middle Child Between Good Friday and Easter Sunday

However, one long-ago Saturday was not a weekend respite. It was a long, grinding day, splattered with the nightmarish memory of spilled blood and jangling with the echoes of dying men. Over time, Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions dubbed it “Holy Saturday,” but there didn’t seem to be anything holy about it at the time. It was the Saturday between death and resurrection, a limbo in which survivors picked through the wreckage of Friday and Sunday didn’t seem to matter.

It was the Saturday following the death of Jesus.

From the biblical record, we know plenty about the two days that bookend this gloomy Saturday. All four Gospels testify to the crucifixion of Jesus on Friday. We know such details as the name of the execution site—Golgotha, “The Place of the Skull”— down to the specific hour in which Christ died—the “ninth hour,” or at about 3:00 in the afternoon. Resurrection Sunday is rich in details, too. Women were the first to discover the empty tomb (Mark 16:1). A flashing, snow-white figure descended and pushed away the stone that had sealed the body (Matt 28:2-3). We even know what kind of meal that the Risen Jesus ate in the company of His disciples, a piece of broiled fish and some honeycomb (Luke 24:43).

Yet that in-between Saturday was like a middle child in the Gospel accounts, neglected and forgotten. The Bible tells us it was the Jewish Sabbath (Luke 23:54), which began at dusk on Friday and ended on Saturday evening. We also know that the disciples, suspects of the state for following Jesus, were tucked away “for fear of the Jews” (John 20:19). Imagine the odd juxtaposition of religiosity and anxiety as the disciples kept one eye on the scripture readings and the other eye on the door, a door that could have crashed in at any moment under a blitz of Roman soldiers and temple guards.

Other than these sketchy details, we know nothing else about this historical Saturday. But if you’ve suffered a loss, you know all about Saturday mourning.  It’s a grief that shuts you up behind thick doors, and, at any moment, a battalion of primal emotions threatens to break in and snatch you away to the unknown. Even when you’re in the outside world taking care of business, you may feel like you’re staggering around inside a barricaded room. “There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me,” C.S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed following the death of his wife, Joy. Anyone who has grieved knows the accuracy of these words.

A Supernatural Wake-Up Call

As believers, what do we do during Saturday mourning? We can do what the disciples did: sink into weeping, shiver with fear and lock ourselves in. And that’s not a bad thing soon after the hammer of grief falls. But cocoons are not made for permanency. At some point, the butterfly breaks free and so must we. While the butterfly gets a natural wake-up call, Christians have the advantage of hearing a supernatural wake-up call:

“He is not here; he has risen” (Lk 24:6).

It was the Living Christ Himself who galvanized His apostles with words of peace, gentle rebuke for their doubts and a ringing commission to carry out their disciple-making mission. After the Resurrection, though they faced beatings, stoning, ridicule, prison and death, they put the attitude of Saturday mourning behind them for the sure hope of the Sunday dawn.

Reflection Questions:

1. Are you in Saturday mourning right now? Can you recall another time of grief when Christ came to you with words of peace and the power of hope?

2. Do you know someone who is going through Saturday mourning? What can you say to them that doesn’t sound like moth-eaten platitudes?

3. Why do we, as Easter people, often live in Good Friday gloom?

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