Saturday, 19 April 2014

Holy Saturday

"It is a great thing that we are promised by the Lord, but far greater is what has already been done for us ... Why does our human frailty hesitate to believe that mankind will one day live with God? For something much more unbelievable has already been done: God died for humans."

So preached St Augustine. Those last few words are worth a second reading. What can it possibly mean to say that God "died?"

This is the central mystery of our faith, and it is this paradox into which we enter over the final three days of Holy Week, known as the Triduum, from the eve of Maundy Thursday through to Easter Day.

We mark Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter well every year, but we tend to miss the time in between Our Lord's death and Resurrection: the middle day of the three, Holy Saturday. What went on in that empty time - the time between Our Lord's death and His Resurrection?

The traditional account is that of the "harrowing of Hell," or Jesus' descent to the dead, as we proclaim in the Apostles' Creed. There has been much theological speculation about this, but perhaps the most compelling suggestion is that Jesus' descent is the fulfilment of God's "kenosis," or self-emptying. He emptied Himself into the virgin's womb, not clinging to His divinity but assuming mortal flesh; then, on the Cross, He emptied Himself even of that mortality. In the grave, He knew the full and true emptiness of death, and more than death, even hell, the absence of God. God experienced the utter destitution of Godlessness. So it is that Jesus asks, "why have you forsaken me?"

You might say that God experienced Godlessness so that we would not have to. We may feel abandoned by God from time to time, but the truth is that He never abandons us. Not even death is a barrier to our communion with Him, because He has known death Himself and loves us too much to let it consume us. His arms were wide open even to those who nailed Him to the Cross. They are open to us, too. All we have to do is let go, empty ourselves, and let Him fill us with the joy of the Resurrection. That is what these services of the Triduum are meant to help us do.

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