It’s Holy Saturday today, a day when nothing happened. It gets lost amid all the flashier days of Holy Week but it is the part that I relate to the most.
Palm Sunday looked like so much fun, didn’t it? All pomp and circumstance, and weren’t they lucky to have such perfect weather? The Facebook photos would have made me swoon. I would have smiled wistfully at the posts with Mary tagged, happy for them, yes, but something else, too, something that might start with me shaking my head, feeling something like less-than. Thinking something like, Wow. Her kid isn’t riding the Struggle Bus. He’s got his own parade, for God’s sake. He’s so popular, and so accomplished! So many followers! Must be nice.
Palm Sunday is a victory celebration, a bunch of photos and posts that, depending on how things are going for me and mine at the time, might have made me downright jealous.
Just a few days later, though, things had sure changed. Jesus was hosting dinner for The Real Disciples of Jerusalem and so-this happens on the Real Housewives all the time-it was Jesus’ Event. And as with the Housewives when one of them hosts an Event, everyone is invited, even the ones you know will betray the host, because it has to play out. The drama, unscripted but not-unplanned, is, after all, what makes it a Show. So the twelve guys got together, and, to the extent that guys can do so, just tried to make it nice. And then Judas, the mean Housewife at her frenemy’s Event, totally sold Him out in the end, their whole long friendship down the tubes.
I have almost nothing in common with the Housewives, I hope, and not as much with Jesus as I would like. But I know about broken trust, lost friendship, that most awful feeling of betrayal. About people being who they are and doing what they will do and you being left to deal with the fallout.
Good Friday, as we know, is poorly named; it should be called Awful Friday, our mom-friend Mary suffering such an unimaginable loss. In my family, Awful Friday was the May Friday afternoon that my daughter lay unconscious with a brain injury in a helicopter bound for Pediatric Trauma while I sat nearby, having tearfully but successfully begged my way on to the chopper. Please. I just need to be with her if she dies. Please.
Awful Friday is a tragic day, but tragedy in real-time can be surreal, and you somehow hold it together in the midst of it because you have to. You Mom up, you get in the zone. You ask hard questions and you make hard phone calls. You hug your husband in the street and talk your way on to the helicopter and you do not care how ridiculous you look in the outfit you threw on when the call came in, or how crazy you must seem running from person to person begging to be with your girl. There is no time, on Awful Friday, to wonder how in the hell this can be happening. You are too busy Just Doing It to think of anything at all.
It’s waking up the next day, on the day after, on the Saturday, that is the hardest, the moment when everything becomes real. As the comfort of exhausted, primal sleep leaves you, you awaken in the deep darkness of the night or the improbable light of morning to an immeasurable loss or great tragedy that is real, far the fall from your family’s Palm Sunday. It is the beginning of days, sometimes many, many days, of “salt water facials”, the daily tears that fall over your face and into your ears the second that you are awake and you remember again that whatever it is has actually happened. That it was not a dream.
That young, handsome man smiling broadly on the donkey, His friends and family at His side-can it be that that was just the other day? It feels impossible that He could now be gone. The sting of betrayal that feels like an actual, physical injury in those first days; how can there be no visible scar? The first, blinking moments of disoriented awakening in the ICU waiting room: Wait, where am I? Oh, God, that’s right. Oh God. Now I remember.
And it is on those holy Saturdays that it looks like nothing really happens. We wonder how we could have gotten it all so wrong, and we don’t get one bit closer to knowing the end of the story. I mean, all of us know now, how the Holy Week story ends up, which makes modern-day Holy Saturday seem so forgettable, so unimportant. A day that it feels OK to get some sun, do some Easter basket shopping, to try that cute bunny cake we saw on Pinterest. For the first time in days, there is no tragedy to be acknowledged and commemorated. Frankly, we are grateful for the reprieve.
But in real-time, it must have been so confusing. I imagine the late-bloomer fisherman dudes defeatedly wondering how they had somehow screwed things up again, if their mothers were right about leaving their steady fishing jobs for a charismatic guy with a startup. I think of our devastated friend Mary and of her girlfriends (because you know her girlfriends were right there for her that whole weekend, bringing her tea and begging her to try to eat a little something). Breaking down themselves, sometimes, in private, asking God how He could do this to their sweet and devoted friend. Helping come up with a plan: who would gather the cloths and the spices, and go to the burial place on Sunday morning? Divvying up what they could do, just so Mary wouldn’t have to.
This, to me, is so much of life: the waiting, the space between Awful Friday and Resurrection Sunday. Anyone who has lived through Awful Fridays and the Saturdays that follow remembers what it is like in real-time to awaken to reality that is not at all like any reality we have seen before, that could only be described as the polar opposite of OK. Flashy victories of the past are suddenly irrelevant, a million miles in our rear view mirror. Who even cares about that now? we ask ourselves bitterly. What the hell difference did it make? The dust has not even settled yet on the losses, and all we can do is wait. We are offered no other option but to let time pass, to see how the story is going to play out. The adrenaline wears off, leaving us shaky and anxious and exhausted in the waiting. We wonder, and maybe even scream tearfully, desperately, into the middle-of-the-night darkness of the ICU waiting room, how this could have happened. We don’t know how we could have been so wrong about everything. How it can ever be OK again.
There are never Facebook posts from these Saturdays. There are only posts from other people’s tragic Fridays, which make us feel even sadder and a little guilty, and still other people’s smiling Sundays, which leave us feeling lonely and less-than and a little jealous. We are all alone in the Saturday, or so we think, and to some extent that is true, though it cannot be completely so, as there is near us on the table another warm cup of tea brought to us by a friend. There is nothing to do but to weakly say thank you, to shake our heads, to try for the hundredth time to pull ourselves together. To wait for the promise to be revealed.
But something holy happens in the waiting. It happens so slowly that you can easily miss it, but things do start to get better, one way or another, even if it is only that we get used to this new reality. Time passes, and we don’t stay in Awful Friday. We heal somehow in the Saturdays, even though all the while it looks like nothing is happening. We don’t go all the way back to where we started; it is true that we will never be the same.
But miles below the smooth Saturday surface of water, where no one can see, tectonic plates of pain and grief shift, bit by immeasurable bit. It is a slow process, one that can be seen only later and in retrospect, in time lapse and geological survey. You cannot measure it day to day. But it is a beginning.
And one day, perhaps many, many Saturdays later, we are able to show up again: on someone’s page, perhaps even on our own, in a scene of celebration. Ours the grieved but joyful hearts, ours the changed but smiling faces.
Sunday, my friends, is coming. Hang in.