“Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep…”
So begins an ancient homily for Holy Saturday. The text dates to the 4th century and was written in Greek; the author is unknown. In it he describes Christ’s descent to the dead, where he grasps Adam and Eve and frees them from sorrow:
“He (Christ) took [Adam] by the hand and raised him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light… I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in my and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.’”
We stand in the middle of the great Triduum, the three great days of our Lord’s work. These three days are the holiest of days.
What happened on these days long ago are the only events that ever truly changed the world. And today we find ourselves living once again in the Day of Silence.
Living on the boundary between Good Friday and Holy Easter, we find ourselves stopped for a moment, to tread water with Christ in his being-dead for us. Today we are stopped in our tracks by the narrative of death and burial. On Holy Saturday, God proves that there is no abyss of sin and godlessness that he cannot descend into. The depths of God’s love run every bit as deep as the depths of sin and death which we unleash upon the world. And tomorrow we will learn that the depths of God’s love run infinitely deeper than the abyss of sin…but we’re not there yet.
When we look at the God of Holy Saturday, the Trinitarian, cruciform God and ask ourselves how we might possibly image this kind of love, we find ourselves drawn into God’s loving descent into the depths of our sin for our salvation.
When we say that we, as the church are the image of the Trinity, we are making the daring statement that we are joining in the pattern of Christ, in giving ourselves away, in expending ourselves for other, in putting others before ourselves, in loving others even to the point of death for their sake. This is what the life of the Trinity looks like when translated into the life of the sinful world.
And so, as we seek to live and be the body of Christ, the one who descended into hell for us, his body lying cold in the grave, let us with humility and sobriety remember the horrifically great cost of love. God’s love for us cost him what was most precious to him, his own Son. If we would follow God, if we would be the ikon of his love in the world, the same pattern of self-giving must be true of us. We must, if we seek to follow God, descend into the world of sin and suffering and expend our love on all the unlovely people that we meet. And, as with Christ it may mean our death. But here is the miracle of Holy Saturday: Because Christ has died our death for us, we are never alone in death. “For this reason, Christ died and lived again, that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.”