Holy Saturday, situated between the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, is what might be called liminal space. It is an in-between time that bridges what was, to what will be. It is a transitional time between what is known and has to be let go of, and the unknown future.
The friends and disciples of Jesus had just watched the horrifying execution of one to whom they had attached their allegiance and pinned their hopes. Despite his efforts to warn them of the dangers he faced in going to Jerusalem, they were totally unprepared for what had happened. They had watched him die. They had seen him laid in a tomb. Undoubtedly, when they woke up on Saturday morning, as soon as reality hit their awareness, they felt the crushing pain of grief. “Oh my God, how could this have happened?” “How can this possibly be true?”
But it was Saturday, the Sabbath, when all devout Jewish people such as themselves rested, according to the commandment (Luke 23:56). There was nothing to be done, nothing they could do to change things, to make the outcome different. They were caught in a place of disorientation and confusion, unsure of what would come next. Their dreams and hopes and plans for the future lay buried in a tomb. What now?
As we journey through life, we also have these in-between times. We walk into liminal space. There is a diagnosis of cancer. Or a relationship disappoints and fails. We long for a baby but cannot get pregnant. Or we suddenly find ourselves without a job. A dearly loved one dies. A pandemic strikes, and the world shuts down. And suddenly the world as we know it feels shaky. We can no longer visualize what comes next. Grief, regrets, confusion, anger, fear, anxiety, sadness, self-doubt – they’re all there. Perhaps our prayer becomes that of the Psalmist. “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and sorrow in my heart all day long?” (Ps. 13:1-2).
During liminal space it may seem like nothing is happening, like Sabbath rest. It’s an uncomfortable, anxious in-between time. But it’s a time of transition, a time of grieving the past so that there is space for a new and different future. It’s a time when seeds are germinating in the darkness of the earth before they burst into bloom. It’s a part of the cycle of death and resurrection that characterizes our spiritual lives.
As Christians, we already know the Easter story. Even as we remember Jesus’ grieving friends, we know that shortly they will experience the resurrection of their Lord. As Christians we also have this hope – that although we may right now be feeling the sting of some part of our lives dying and cannot clearly see forward to what is coming next, God’s work in our world is resurrection. It is bringing new life where there has been death. It is bringing hope for a different future when one’s expected future has been taken. It is making beauty from the brokenness of our pain. God is working during the in-between times, during the liminal spaces of our lives, when we least can understand what God is doing. All we seem to be able to do during those times is to call out to God, as the Psalmist does, and muddle through, doing our part to move forward but trusting that God’s faithfulness and love are at work in hidden ways.
Right now it may feel like we are stuck in Holy Saturday, but Resurrection Sunday is coming. A day is coming when we can walk out of the liminal space and join the Psalmist is saying, “But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because God has dealt bountifully with me” (Ps. 13:5-6).
By Ruth Rosell, Director of the Buttry Center for Peace and Nonviolence
Posted on 8/9/2020
Lower photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Garden_Tomb_2008.jpg