I first wrote and published this a few years ago, but it has never been more relevant than it is this year, this Holy Saturday, in the waiting.
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, especially this year, I can relate to the most.
Under normal circumstances (which grow harder and harder to remember) we wouldn’t have had the strange Pandemic Palm Sunday of this year: at home, holding silly palms made of poster board and magic marker, watching church on TV in our pajamas. Under normal circumstances, Palm Sunday is a celebration, a ticker-tape victory parade, an Ivy League graduation. All pomp and circumstance, and weren’t they lucky to have such perfect weather? The Facebook photos would have made me swoon. I might have smiled wistfully at the posts tagged with my mom-friend Mary’s name, happy for her, yes, but–depending on how things were going for me and mine at the time–I might have felt something else, too. Something that might start with me shaking my head and thinking something like, Mary’s 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! Something–and I am not proud of this–that might have ended with me feeling less-than, and maybe even a little jealous.
Even still, I would have been shaken and saddened to hear that just a few days later, things had really gone south. Jesus was hosting dinner for The Real Disciples of Jerusalem and so–and I know this scene, this happens on the Real Housewives all the time–it was, y’know, Jesus’ event. And as with the Housewives when one of them hosts an event, everyone on the show is invited, even the ones you know will betray the host, because the unscripted but not-unplanned drama is what makes it a show. So the twelve guys got together, and I am guessing that they were just trying, in the earnest-but-not-terribly-expert way that a bunch of young guys without girlfriends do, to make it nice. And then–and the Real Housewives do this all the time at their frenemy’s events–Judas, acting all buddy-buddy, came up to Jesus with some opener about what great friends they were and the whole time it was just to sell Jesus out, to send their whole long friendship down the tubes. I have almost nothing in common with the Housewives (I hope) and not as much in common with Jesus as I would like, but I know about broken trust, lost friendship, the devastating free fall of betrayal. About people being who they are and doing what they will do and you just being left to deal with the fallout.
And then came Good Friday which, as we know, is poorly named; it should be called Awful Friday, our mom-friend Mary suffering such an unimaginable and devastating 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 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 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 make him promise this will not destroy the two of you and then you talk your way on to the helicopter and the whole time, you do not give a crap 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 in your clogs and your running shorts begging to please, please be allowed to stay with your girl. There is no time, on Awful Friday, to wonder how in the hell this can be happening. You are too busy doing it to think of anything at all.
It’s waking up the next day, the Saturday that comes after Awful Friday, that is the hardest: this is 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 a terrible loss or great tragedy that is both real and impossibly removed from any of your family’s Palm Sundays. 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 very second that you are awake and you remember again that it is has actually happened, that this is not a dream.
It is almost too much to make sense of, how much things have changed, and how quickly. The young, handsome man smiling broadly on the donkey, His proud friends and family at His side–how 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, in early days, like an actual, physical injury; it seems impossible that there is no physical wound, no visible scar. The first, blinking moments of disoriented awakening: Wait, where am I? What has happened? 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 any 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. Holy Saturday can feel like an intermission, a placeholder, a day that it feels OK to get some vacation sun, do some Easter basket shopping, try to copy that cute bunny cake you saw on Pinterest. For the first time in days, there is no tragedy to be acknowledged and commemorated and frankly, we are a little relieved.
But in real-time, it must have been so confusing. I imagine the late-bloomer fisherman dudes defeatedly wondering how they had managed to screw things up again, if their mothers were right about leaving their steady fishing jobs for the charismatic guy with a startup. I think of our devastated friend Mary, and 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 in private, quietly comforting each other in the kitchen, asking God how He could do this to their sweet and devoted friend. Divvying up the tasks at hand: who would gather the cloths and the spices, who would go to the burial place on Sunday morning? Figuring out how they could help, what they could do, just so their devastated friend wouldn’t have to.
This, to me, is so much of life, and so much of where we find ourselves today, on this Holy pandemic Saturday: in the waiting, in 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 a 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 even 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 we even scream tearfully, desperately, into the middle-of-the-night darkness of the ICU waiting room or the sheltered-in-place living room: how this could have happened?? We don’t know how we could have been so wrong about everything. We are sure it can never be OK again.
There are no Facebook posts from the Saturdays. There are only posts from other people’s tragic Fridays, which make us feel even sadder and sometimes a little guilty, and still other people’s smiling Sundays, which can leave us feeling lonely and less-than, and even 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, or, this year, a text asking if we are OK. Sometimes there is nothing to do but weakly say thank you, shake our heads again, and try 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 absolutely 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 which can be seen only later, in time lapse and geological survey; you cannot measure it from 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 Facebook page, perhaps even 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.