The Silence of Holy Saturday
by Lauren Whitnah
April 4, Holy Saturday – Psalms 95* & 88, 27; Job 19:21-27a ; Hebrews 4:1-16** ; Romans 8:1-11***
He was a tiny man with an enormous potbelly and a thick German accent, one in a succession of long-suffering piano teachers. I was crashing through one of Beethoven’s sonatas, and relieved to have made it through with more correct notes than incorrect ones, I got sloppy towards the end of the movement. When I finished, the first thing he said was, “Play the rests, Lauren! You must play the rests!” The rests written in the music are not opportunities for the pianist to take a mental or physical break, he reminded me; rests are not simply moments where nothing happens. The silence between the notes is as important as the notes themselves.
It’s easy to want to skip over Holy Saturday. The drama and pathos of Good Friday is behind us; Easter, with all its triumphant alleluias and descants and flowers, is coming tomorrow. So it’s understandable that we often treat Holy Saturday as an interval to take a break and stretch fingers, a pause to get through before striking the next chord. But Holy Saturday is not only the interval before the main event.
In the silence of Holy Saturday, we can hear something extraordinary. In the readings for today, the psalmist cries out with palpable bitterness:
Do you work wonders for the dead? Will those who have died stand up and give you thanks?
Will your loving-kindness be declared in the grave? Your faithfulness in the land of destruction? Will your wonders be known in the dark? Or your righteousness in the country where all is forgotten?
And the quiet of Holy Saturday provides a resounding YES! as answer to the psalmist’s anguished questions. Christ’s silent presence in the tomb is the loudest possible declaration of God’s loving-kindness. God’s faithfulness is present in the land of destruction, and his wonders will be known in the dark. In the rest of Holy Saturday, we can witness a profound truth: Christ is in the tomb, and that means there is no place—none—that we will go where Christ has not already been. God’s loving-kindness is not only present in the crucifixion on Good Friday or the resurrection on Easter, but we can witness it in the deep silence of the tomb on Holy Saturday as well.