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How to Wait on Holy Saturday

harrowing of hell – en


Cari Donaldson - published on 03/30/13

Between the drama of the Passion and the bliss of the Resurrection lies Holy Saturday

When I was in college, I lived in a housing co-op with a bunch of hippies. Periodically, we’d throw these massive house parties that featured excess in all the usual things. I’d wake up the next morning, hung over and miserable, and look at the wreckage from the night before, wondering how long I was going to live like this.

Fast forward sixteen years and one religious conversion, arriving at this morning’s run. As I wandered through my house on the way out, I was (not for the first time) reminded of those post-party landscapes as I surveyed my family room: plates left anywhere and everywhere, half-full cups of milk, partially eaten pizza crusts, abandoned shoes, dirty blankets, and napkins torn into a million pieces thanks to the efforts of both dog and baby.  Sunday pizza-and-movie-night may be a bonding experience for the family, but the fallout that settles everywhere is awful.

I mutter under my breath as I go outside, bracing myself against the frost that’s still in the air.  (Late March! Still snow on the ground!) I am in a serious state of negativity before I even reach the end of the driveway.  I’m tired of waiting for spring.  I’m tired of waiting for my 37-year-old body to bounce back from its sixth pregnancy.  I’m tired of waiting for kids to learn to put their shoes away and clear their own dishes, and – while we’re making a wish list – I’d like to add, “learn to use and flush the toilet after themselves.”

I can’t get the image of college housing co-ops out of my mind, and I start running faster, letting myself be chased by demons that don’t have to be there anymore.  They’re gone, I remind myself; all the sins of that life have been forgiven and removed by Christ.  Anxious to stay close to Him, I reluctantly pick up my crosses and die to myself and do all the things that will play out over and over again in parishes around this world this Holy Week.  I’ll serve my family, but I’m impatient for them to stop being so messy.  I’ll take care of my body, but I’m impatient for it to stop being such an un-glorified version of itself.  I’ll wait for spring, but I’m beginning to think that it’ll take so long to get there we’ll just have to skip straight on into fall.

I hate waiting.

I think about the first Holy Week, and meditate on it as I trudge my stubborn body through another mile. I think about Christ washing the feet of all His Apostles. I think about the Last Supper.  I think about the horror and the blood and the agony of Good Friday.  I think about how it was my hands holding the hammer that drove the nails through Jesus’ hands, and how He forgave me anyway. 

I try to flinch away from that and look to Easter Sunday, but I pull back for a second, remembering I’ve skipped over Holy Saturday.  What happened then?

Nothing.  Waiting.


I think about Mary Magdalene and the holy women, impatiently waiting for the precise moment the Sabbath ended so they could go anoint the broken body of Our Savior.  I think about Peter, horrified by his triple denial, waiting for some chance to put it right.  I think about the other Apostles, hiding in the Upper Room, waiting for news that the authorities were no longer looking for them. I think of Judas, tired of waiting, hanging himself in despair. 

Between the drama of the Passion and the bliss of the Resurrection lies the waiting of Holy Saturday.  And, with the notable absence of Our Lady’s response, we’re shown example after example of people impatiently waiting to accomplish their own agenda.  We see people who are waiting without Jesus.

Waiting without Jesus, as Judas so clearly shows, is always a mistake. Contrast this waiting with the waiting of the disciples between the Ascension and Pentecost.  Asked by Christ to stay together and wait, they filled that time with prayer and thoughts of God.  Their waiting wasn’t marked by agony.  This time, it was marked by joyful anticipation.

Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the other Apostles’ reactions on Holy Saturday are so familiar to me (if I’m honest, so is Judas’s).  I’m impatient for these mundane crosses of daily life to be lifted; impatient for my version of what my life should look like to get here.  Waiting without Jesus like that, you can doubt that your sins really have been forgiven, and suddenly Judas and his despair are close enough to touch.      

Holy Week asks us to continue to look ahead: to see the Mass in the Last Supper; to see the forgiveness of all sins throughout space and time on the Cross.  And with Holy Saturday, that day of waiting without Jesus, we’re asked to look forward to a post-Ascension upper room, where we can wait with Jesus.

As I head back home, I know my house will still be a wreck and that the duties of my vocation will still be waiting for me, but I also remember that I don’t live in that dirty housing co-op anymore, and I’m no longer dragging along the sins of that life.  I don’t have to wait there with Judas and the confused, impatient disciples.  I can fill these moments with Jesus and live them, rather than attempting to simply endure without Him.

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