Lessons from Holy Saturday

penny mulveyBy Penny Mulvey

As you read this, you will have travelled the journey of Lent, felt the grief of Jesus’ death on the cross, and joined with others to celebrate that Christ has risen, the cornerstone of Christian hope.

What about Saturday – that day in between? The day when the disciples had to accept that their Messiah had fooled them. What might they have felt? Despair? Anger? Guilt? Emptiness? Trauma after witnessing their Lord’s violent death? And for what purpose?

Associate Professor of Theology at the Boston University School of Theology, Shelly Rambo, believes that Holy Saturday is an important moment in which we are living beyond a death, a kind of metaphorical death, but can’t see life clearly ahead.

This might make little sense until you place it in a daily context. For example, our media has been filled with horrendous stories of child sexual abuse committed over many years by church leaders. Those survivors tell stories of lives forever damaged, of living in unrelenting darkness, of recurring traumatic episodes.

Ms Rambo wanted to understand how the Easter story could offer healing to victims of trauma. For her, a theological understanding of this middle day, Holy Saturday, enables us to recognise that suffering remains, even if there is some measure of healing.

Speaking to Duke University’s Faith and Worship blog, Ms Rambo cites the story of doubting Thomas, who needed proof of Jesus’ wounds to become a believer. The focus has been on belief not the wounds. “I think we’re still not reading the wounds as seriously as we could in terms of the way in which life is marked by suffering,” she says.

“Maybe the work of the Christian community is to witness the wounds and bring them back into life again.”

So often, the deepest wounds appear to have no place in Christian community. We do not know how to sit with stories of pain.

The Royal Commission has exposed massive moral failures by institutions in which we have placed our trust. We also know that many more people have experienced abuse and trauma in other places.

Ms Rambo challenges us to think differently about redemption. “Perhaps the divine story is neither a tragic one nor a triumphant one but, in fact, a story of divine remaining, the story of love that survives. It is a cry arising from the abyss. The question is: can we witness it?”

What does it mean for us to witness, to stand alongside, those who know the abyss? Whatever it may mean, we know that we are not alone.

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