I’m always caught off guard by how tragedy is inevitably invaded by the ordinary.
Soon after we were married my husband and I were in a serious accident that left the friend riding with us severely injured. For weeks afterward, it felt wrong that most of the world went on as usual. I remember emerging from the fluorescent staleness of the ICU after visiting my friend and blinking, disoriented by the routine bustle of the day — cars speeding by, laughter of passerbys on the street, business people scurrying around on cell phones.
I had to resist the urge to scream, “Stop!” Why should the world keep going after tragedy? How can life drum on when the world was turned upside down?
But ordinariness is relentless. Each time I emerge from a funeral service squinting on a sunny day or when there’s news of a major disaster and I continue with my daily work, each time I wake after a heartbreak to familiar sounds of dogs barking and birds chirping, I’m reminded again — life goes on. Beds have to be made, teeth have to be brushed, work has to be done.
On Good Friday, Jesus was tortured, crucified, and died. The noonday went dark, there were earthquakes, and the temple veil was torn.
Then, on Saturday, the dawn came as it always did. The rooster crowed — this time, not announcing betrayal, but welcoming an ordinary day. Within the Jewish community, it was Sabbath, a rhythm the people knew by heart from time immemorial.
Throughout the world, farmers went out to the field, children played games in the street, women started on breakfast.
The disciples, most of whom had abandoned Jesus and fled, woke up and remembered again the horrific terror of the days before. How could this have happened? What would it mean to start over? To go back to fishing? To get on with life?
Their friend, their rabbi, the one in whom they’d put all their hope, had died disgraced. And the world cruelly went on, for the most part ignorant of what had just occurred. What now?
The reason we call Holy Saturday "Holy" is because we know what happened on Sunday. We know the end of the story. But for the disciples, it was just Saturday, a terrible Saturday, a day they were hiding, a day to mourn. A day life went on, differently but inevitably.
Last year, my church had a service each day of Holy week. Beginning with Palm Sunday, we had a daily noonday Eucharistic service, a contemplative Tenebrae service on Holy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday foot washing and Communion, and a long vigil around the last words of Christ on Good Friday. It was a high, holy week and busy.
Then, on Holy Saturday: Nothing.
The sanctuary sat silent and dark like a tomb. Holy Saturday is a day of ordinariness, of silence, and of waiting.
The tradition holds that on that day, Christ was at work. He descended into Hell and mysteriously brought redemption even to the dead. But as far as the disciples knew, God was absent. They waited for a new week to begin without Jesus.
And God, unhurried, like a master composer, let the discordance swell a little longer before the triumphant resolve. Holy Saturday reminds us that the rhythm of redemption involves waiting, tension, the ache of not knowing what’s ahead.
We will celebrate on Sunday, deliriously joyful as the disciples were.
But on Holy Saturday, we wait.
This day in Holy Week provides liturgical space for us, as a community, to recognize that because of Christ’s victory over emptiness and death on Sunday, we can sit patiently in ache, in ordinariness, in unresolve, in fallow times when God seems silent.
And when we wait, we wait with hope. We wait for an unhurried, Risen Redeemer who can be trusted. We wait expectantly.
Tish Harrison Warren is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America. After eight years with InterVarsity Graduate and Faculty Ministries, she now serves as Co-Associate Rector at Church of the Ascension in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She writes regularly for The Well, CT Women (formerly her.meneutics), and Christianity Today. Her work has also appeared in Comment Magazine, Christ and Pop Culture, Art House America, and elsewhere. She is author of Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life (IVP). She and her husband Jonathan have two young daughters.
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