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Dead Quiet

A Meditation on Holy Saturday


I will wait, Lord of Time and Space. I will wait. (Repeat)

CCT Director / Editor of The Table / Adjunct Professor of Philosophy, Biola University
April 18, 2019

This first appeared in the Center for Christianity, Culture, and the Arts at

I don’t know what happened on Holy Saturday. That day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is a controversial theological topic among Christians, owing to very limited references in the New Testament and conciliar documents. “Christ descended to the dead,” says the Apostle’s Creed. “He preached to the spirits in prison,” reports 1 Peter 3:18-20. Jesus went “down to the lower parts of the earth,” says Paul in Ephesians 4:9. Metaphor for bodily death and entombing? Freeing the Old Covenant faithful? Don’t know. The alternative, emphasize some contemporary Protestant theologians, is that starting on Friday, Jesus was in Paradise with the good thief (“today, you’ll be with me in Paradise”). Well, I’m hesitant to expedite Sunday hopes and slap them onto a dark and empty Friday cross. So I don’t know. In fact, I believe the unknowing is an important part of liturgical Christian use of Holy Saturday.

What we gain from a celebration of Holy Saturday emerges from taking the perspective of those with the extinguished hope and quiet sorrow of losing their friend and Messiah to a torturous death and apparently abysmal failure. What was on their agenda for Saturday, those first Holy Saturday worshippers? Most scattered, some gathered, Mary Magdalene mourned by the tomb; Judas lay dead in a field. I wonder if some slept off the throbbing hangover of Good Friday, retreating to unconsciousness rather than facing the shattering truth that their friend had failed and was gone. As Karen Bergquist laments in Over the Rhine’s wet-eyed ballad, “Undamned,”:

Sometimes all we believe
Turns out to be just a scam
Just trying to get my world
Get it undamned

That hurts.

What do you do in the wake of extinguished hope? Where do you go when the lights go out and all is dark? The silence of loss is heavy and aching and reveals a slow and yawning pain. You’re alive, but your hope is dead. So basically… you’re dead. It’s hard to feel like a much of a living self when you have no hope.

The disorientation and ambiguity those on the first Holy Saturday must have felt would have been soul-crushing. “Was everything we believed just a scam?” Of course, it’s hard for us to see all that. We know it’s no damn scam. We know Jesus rose the next day. But what does that encourage in us? From our privileged historical (and likely social) position, we just look at Holy Saturday as another day off from work—wake up late; keep your pajamas on; fix that runny faucet; walk the dog; set up an Easter-egg hunt; catch that Final Four game. And there’s no liturgical or formative use in that. You’ve got to get back into the limbo that Holy Saturday first was.

You know that feeling when you hold your breath for so long that you feel the throb of your heart? The liturgical space of Holy Saturday is the baited breath without the knowledge of resurrection. It’s like holding your breath underwater, with the very real question of whether you’ll ever get to come up and gasp your lungs full of air again. It’s like being punched in the gut—you want that air so bad, but it’s just not there. This is the liminality (in-betweenness, transitional state, “on the threshold”—related to “limit” and “limbo”) of Holy Saturday. Time goes real slow. There is no consolation here. Just waiting—a waiting without expectation of escape.

On the way from death to life, there is Saturday. Sabbath day. Rest. How do you rest when your world falls apart? You rest in the restlessness. I know that’s demanding; more demanding than we’d like. But that’s the nature of living along the aching liminality of Holy Saturday. Our transition from death to life, through the breath-taking disorientation of Holy Saturday, into the shocking gasp of hope on Resurrection Sunday.

Prayer:
I will wait, Lord of Time and Space, I will wait.
[Repeat throughout the day]

Scripture: Romans 8:1-11
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.  For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.  For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.  If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

Poetry: In a Country Church
By R.S. Thomas 

To one kneeling down no word came,
Only the wind’s song, saddening the lips
Of the grave saints, rigid in glass;
Or the dry whisper of unseen wings,


Bats not angels, in the high roof.
Was he balked by silence? He kneeled long
And saw love in a dark crown
Of thorns blazing, and a winter tree
Golden with fruit of a man’s body.

About the Artwork:
The Healing of a Child
Daniel Bonnell
2005-2012
Oil on wood canvas
96.52 x 81.28 cm

Daniel Bonnell’s work about his Christian faith hovers between realism and the abstract.  The work is intuitive and provocatively expressive. This painting of Christ healing a child shows the child as almost being a part of Him. As the text today from Romans indicates, Christ is in us and we are in him and in Verse 11: “He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” Bonnell shows us in this image that we do not have a God who is distant, but that the Spirit of God is indeed with us and in us, enabling healing and new life.

About the Artist:
Daniel Bonnell
 is an artist known throughout the United States, England, and Israel, and his work is widely used by theologians as illustrations for their writings and books. He holds a BFA from the Atlanta College of Art and an MFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design. He is not associated with any denomination, organization, or institution. His work became known largely from having a solo show at Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London, England, in 2004. He is author of the book Shadow Lessons, a book about the trials and lessons learned of teaching art to at-risk inner-city high school students. He is a contributing writer for ArtPulse Magazine, a magazine that reviews the work of contemporary artists around the world. Of his work, he says, “To me painting is not about what I see, it’s about what I don’t see.…..My interests lie within the beauty of ambiguity held within painting that pursues a sacred direction within the realm of Christology. Following the path of using a monastic discipline of Lectio Divina approach to my paintings allows a process of reading, reflecting, meditation and transformation to occur from my creation of the work itself, to its own development and creation and back to me through a transformation or element of kenosis.”

About the Music:
“Undamned” 
from the album The Long Surrender

Lyrics:
Sometimes all we believe
Turns out to be just a scam
Just trying to get my world
Get it undamned

It’s been my lifelong song
Who’ll take me Just As I Am
Help me to get my world
Get it undamned

I’ve got a thousand lost songs
(Far too many they just got away)
I’ve done a thousand things wrong
(Far too many for me to name)
But I’m not too far gone
To fall
Headlong
Into the arms that love me

Don’t count me out just yet
I’m not your little lost lamb
God might still get my world
Get it undamned

I’ve got a thousand lost songs
(Far too many they just got away)
I’ve done a thousand things wrong
(Far too many for me to name)
But I’m not too far gone
To fall
Headlong
Into the arms that love me

I’ve got a thousand lost songs
(Far too many they just got away)
I’ve done a thousand things wrong
(Far too many for me to name)
But I’m not too far gone
To fall
Headlong
Into the arms that love me

But I’m not too far gone
To fall
Headlong…

About the Author