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Holy Saturday: Standing in the Tragic Gap

“AND SUDDENLY THERE WAS A GREAT EARTHQUAKE" (Matt. Z8:2). With little or no warning the world seems to have been hit by a meteor. The initial jolt gives way to a shaking so violent the earth feels like prey in the teeth of some ravenous wild thing. Enormous pressures displace large landmasses. The ground splits and heaves, faults scarring its surface. Unfamiliar sounds and lights haunt the atmosphere. How quickly our predictable, safely ordered environment can be reduced to a ravaged remnant of its former self. Archimedes, the great mathematician of classical antiquity, once confidently declared: "Show me where to stand, and I will move the earth." But when the earth moves beneath our feet, where can we stand?

The earthquakes with which Matthew frames the passion of Jesus suggest that this question is cosmic in scope and spiritual in nature. As Jesus breathes his last on the cross, huge rocks split apart and, following his resurrection, saints who had died come forth from their tombs (Matt. 27:51-53). In these tumultuous events, the most solid, unassailable truths of reality as we know it are subverted. The irresistible force of God's love dislodges old creation's death-grip on life. The uncontainable energy of God's desire for life in abundance topples the tidy logic that governs our days. The rock-hewn tomb becomes the womb of a New Creation; the huge slab sealing Christ's burial chamber is shoved aside and the stone of defeat becomes a throne of victory. The transformation of all things is underway. And yet, what a valley of tears continues to separate the old creation from the new. What perverse resiliency resides in all that harms, separates, angers, or saddens us. How tragic a gap yawns between glimpses of all that we hope for and the luminous fulfillment of our hope.

When familiar contours disappear and the earth moves beneath our feet, where can we stand? We can stand in the tragic gap. This is Holy Saturday ground, the ground we occupy between the virtue we see to be possible and its actual flourishing throughout the land. It is holy ground because the unanticipated, painful, incomprehensible loss of cherished landmarks offers an Opportunity to see alternate perspectives, different paths, fresh horizons. It is holy ground because we stake our lives on it, holding fast to truth we know and holding out for truth yet to be revealed. It is holy ground because it holds within its soil the seeds of courage and the possibility of renewal.

"I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it" (Isa. 43:19). These words contain the promise of Good Friday and the challenge of Easter. Between them rests Holy Saturday, the terrain in which we wait, watch and prepare as best we can to be astonished.

From Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life, Vol. XXX, No. 2 (Feb/Mar/Apr 2015), (Nashville, TN: The Upper Room, 2015), 47.