Done anybody wrong
I done anybody wrong
Have mercy on me
If I did anybody wrong, oh
Have mercy on me
I’ve been thinking about Holy Saturday. Liturgically speaking, it doesn’t get paid much mind as far as Triduum goes. Holy Thursday is the beginning of our solemnity, Good Friday its crisis. Holy Saturday passes without much comment most years. It’s on Thursday that the eucharist is instituted and Jesus is betrayed. It’s on Friday that the sky goes dark, the temple curtain is rent in two, and Christ’s side is pierced, his body lifeless but no bone broken.
Then we skip over to Easter, and Holy Saturday just hangs out in the middle. I mean, sure, the vigil is Saturday night, but strictly speaking Holy Saturday ends at dusk. By the time we get to the vigil, we’re looking to the dawn: the sunrise, the stone rolled away. Christ risen, and the world saved.
But there’s that bit in the middle, isn’t there? There’s Saturday, named Holy though we don’t pay as much attention to it as we do to the rest. I don’t suppose it’s that surprising. On this plane of existence, the holy day is characterized almost entirely by nothing happening. For Christ’s contemporaries, it was the Sabbath, and there was nothing that could be done until Sunday. For Christ’s followers now, we’re waiting for something to happen tomorrow, and we can’t begin to really understand what’s happening in the moment on Saturday. Once upon a time it was spoken of as the Harrowing of Hell, though I don’t think I’ve ever actually heard it referred to as such in person. I’m not sure how one goes about commemorating something so far removed. We can talk about Triduum and Easter in concrete terms more easily. We can recount the stories, as we do on Passion Sunday, and then again during Holy Week. Christ died. Christ rose.
But there’s still that bit in the middle: the pause between death and resurrection, the moment stretching into eternity when God is dead. It’s that devastating bit in the middle where there is nothing to be done but breathe through the trauma of Friday in the hope of reaching the glory of Sunday.
This lenten season is the first time I’ve thought much about Holy Saturday. Years ago, I read that Cornel West pinned his theology on that day, but I didn’t explore it much at the time. For some reason, though, I’ve been thinking about the uneasiness of Holy Saturday. I have been known to give litanies of All the Bad Things, in person and in these pages: wars, injustice, death, pain. I have also been known to go on about some very good things, albeit not as often: hope, kindness, joy. I’m not sure how much space I have left in my mind for the breath between trauma and resolution, though: that moment between death and salvation.
So I went back to Dr. West, who said his people were Holy Saturday people. His theology told me that we cannot rush to the salvation of Easter Sunday, because there are too many still twisting in the violence of Good Friday. There is too much pain to be remembered, and there are too many injustices to be recalled. Victory does not come quickly, or easily, and it cannot come at all without God.
In saying so, I don’t believe West is asking anyone to be paralyzed by the shame of past wrongs. Rather, he’s asking us to understand what happened on Holy Saturday in spiritual terms. Christ descended into hell. He carried the weight of human sin — he carried every act of violence, oppression, inattention. He saved us because we could not save ourselves.
In West’s terms, this is the blues sensibility: it’s responding to catastrophe not with violence, but with compassion. It’s based on the incredible sincerity and absolute absurdity of the human condition: the fact that there can be so much wrong and yet so much right in people; so much pettiness and so much nobility.
This sensibility is named for the musical form, but it’s not necessarily tied to it. As I was listening to Junior Kimbrough’s song Lord Have Mercy on Me this week, though, it occurred to me just how entwined the blues can be with that notion of compassion, when the blues are at their best. The song is a Holy Saturday song. It’s the silence of a stripped altar. It’s our long dark walk from Calvary to the opened tomb — it’s a walk I’m going to pay more mind to, this Triduum.
Ward is a Saskatoon-based freelance writer who spends her days (and most nights) working at a small Catholic college. Her less eloquent thoughts can be found at www.twitter.com/newsetofstrings