Saturday, March 22, 2008

Time stands still

Holy Saturday, 2008

Last night after the Good Friday liturgy, my son and I went out to eat and then to the store to buy dog and cat food. After leaving a darkened, silent church, it was something of a shock to go out and find people being busy.

The store was bright and people hustled around with carts. The restaurant was noisy. Kids were madly coloring pages trying to win a sundae in the coloring contest. I saw lots of ice cream being dished up and monster hamburgers being served. The waitresses gathered to sing "Happy Birthday" for someone. I remember thinking to myself “Don’t these people know it is Good Friday? Don’t these folks realize that Jesus was crucified?”

It was probably that way on that first Saturday. The people around Jesus probably felt something less like contemplative silence and something much more like time had come to a halt. Everything inside is askew and rearranged and broken. Like the moments after a tornado or an earthquake…everything is still and strangely quiet waiting for the next jolt or the next siren. Except that for the grieving the stillness is inside. The broken shelves are within us. The rest of the world goes about its business.

In Jerusalem, the drama of the mob, the scourging, the long journey to Golgotha and the crucifixion was yesterday’s news. It had been just another day in the life of a big city under Roman rule. By Sunday morning, when the Sabbath was over, the bread sellers were probably out in force and the markets bustling. Children were probably chasing each other and singing, mothers trying to round them up and haggling with shopkeepers, the men going about their tasks or gathered around to hold forth on the latest news. As the women were getting up for their preparations for what we now know as the first Easter--that is, finishing the work of preparing the body of Jesus for burial, which was rushed before the Sabbath--the world around them was already back at work.

Movies sometimes show this. A good director can show what it's like when something happens and everything stops. After a long pause when every stops, the camera pulls back and the sound of clattering dishes and people talking starts up again. What is different is that it is no longer background noise, we can’t block it out the clatter and buzz because the stillness inside us is so very profound.

We are doing something new for this parish this morning. Before we go about the work of setting up for the liturgies tonight and tomorrow, we are taking a moment to be still and silent. Before we get very busy getting ready for the party, we are taking time to recall for a minute that moment when, for the followers of Jesus, time stood still while the world went about its business.

That first Saturday did not feel very holy, I am sure. Anyone who has known the death of a loved one can probably tell you that those first days or weeks when the world goes on and we are left alone in our loss are days that feel lonely and strange and outside of normal time. Holy Saturday teaches us that not only does Jesus identify with us and join us in our living and dying, but that he joins us in that strange, still empty place that exists between death and life.

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