by Jean Stokan and Scott Wright
We could imagine that, for the disciples, the day after Jesus’ crucifixion must have been one of excruciating grief, overwhelming fear, and utter confusion about what lay ahead. For us, however, Holy Saturday is a time of quiet anticipation, for we know that the stone is about to crack. We know that Christ rose and hope returned. We know that death did not have the last word!
Our reflections this Lent have been about living as resurrected beings in the midst of the world’s crosses. Our relationship to the crucified of our day — those carrying crosses of illness or exclusion or those living under the crushing impact of poverty, violence, racism or war — has been one of positioning ourselves at the foot of the cross. Not unlike when we genuflect to venerate the cross on Good Friday and kiss the caked blood on Jesus’ wounds, something happens when we draw close to the pain of others. Our hearts break. Our tears fall. They fall, however, into the chalice that Jesus holds out to catch the blood and tears of all who suffer. In that mingling, and with the kiss of his love on our human suffering, something in our hearts is transformed. At the foot of the cross, gestures of love may be all we have left to share. Maybe it’s everything.
Before her death in Auschwitz in 1943, Etty Hillesum wrote of her time in Westerbork, preparing people to board the trains for the death camps. While looking into the eyes of mothers whose children were being ripped from their arms and witnessing daily encounters with horror, she resigned herself to live through her moment of history with courage, relying on prayer and love:
From four to nine I dragged screaming children around and carried luggage for exhausted women. It was heart-rending. … The morning transport is ready … large empty cattle cars. … An old woman asked me helplessly, “Could you tell me, please could you tell me, why we Jews have to suffer so much?” I couldn’t answer. … In a few hours you can accumulate enough gloom here to last a lifetime. There are babies with pneumonia lying in the freight cars. … This morning I had a brief talk with a woman who had told me her latest experiences in three minutes. How much can you really tell in a few minutes? When we came to a door and I wasn’t allowed to go any farther, she embraced me and said, “Thank you for being such a help.”
Etty sought to “love everyone with all the tenderness possible.” She sustained herself by reading poetry and searching for slivers of nature amidst the crosses. She literally fell to her knees if she encountered a patch of flowers. She did everything she could to bring cheer to another on the cross, to love up until the end. Before getting on the transit for her own trip to the death camp, she gave her diary to a friend. Later, a letter dropped from a slit in the wooden planks of the train. Found by a farmer, her epilogue told people that “we left the camp singing.”
On Holy Saturday, our position changes. Instead of weeping alone at the foot of the cross, we turn to sit in front of the stone, together as community, facing the stone expectantly. The sliver is about to crack
This reflection was written by Jean Stokan and Scott Wright in the Lenten reflection booklet for 2010, Living as Resurrected Beings in the Midst of the World’s Crosses: Reflections for Lent 2010.