Saturday, 30 March 2013

What needs to be done tomorrow? A Holy Saturday reflection

It's an odd day, Holy Saturday. An 'in-between' day, but a day which, if we inhabit it fully, is not 'in-between' anything - it is simply 'after'. After the so-called 'Good' Friday where the forces of death and destruction have, as far as anyone can tell, won the day - silenced life and hope, destroyed love and peace. There is, as far as anyone can tell, nothing ahead, nothing to look forward to, nothing to wait for.

So what are we left with? What remains?

When all that is, is what has been, we can be left with nostalgia for the good times - or grief, and guilt, and angry blame, for what has gone awry.

If I had been one of those first disciples of Jesus, I can almost feel the desperate fury at the chief priests, at Pilate the Roman governor, at Judas the betrayer, for what has happened to Jesus. A desperate fury that so many are feeling today, of all days, at what our present government, the chief priests and Roman governors of our time, are doing to people on the lowest incomes, to people in social housing, to people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, to people who are newly-arrived in the country.

But the Passion story we have re-enacted and lived through this week will not let us get away with righteous indignation - not indignation from a point of innocence, at least. We cannot pile all the blame onto 'the powerful' and, mirroring Pilate, wash our own hands of it all. Because we are the crowd. We are the ones who, all too fickle, greeted Jesus on Palm Sunday with joyful 'Hosannas' and yet, days later, shouted 'Crucify'. We are the ones who collude with the system, whether with the votes we cast, the money we spend or save, the 'news' stories we uncritically absorb, the opinions we parrot - or, perhaps most crucially, the silence or inaction or helplessness we allow ourselves to be sidelined into. We are complicit in the crucifixions going on around us - there is no place of innocence on which to stand.

And so the story goes. Nothing remains. Even Jesus' most faithful disciples have betrayed, denied, and scattered to the winds - their promises to stick with him to the end lying in tatters. Guilt is all consuming, shattering, paralysing. We are helpless, hopeless, until in Easter God comes breathing forgiveness.

That is one story of Holy Saturday. And it has much truth to it. But here, tentatively, is another...

The other, rarely told, rarely heard story of Holy Saturday is a story not of helpless guilt, but of responsible presence. Where the traditional telling places us 'somewhere else', anywhere else, but with the crucified one, this other story - a story of a handful of women, no less - is one of doggedly 'being there', staying, in the place of responsibility, of compassion, of - in a strange way - action.

There is a small group of women who, when the male disciples have fled in fear, follow Jesus all the way to the cross, and stay nearby, watching. They are witnesses. They are listeners. They hear his cry of god-forsakenness, they see his last breath.

This same group of women, so this submerged story goes, help take down the dead body and bury it, and get ready to return, a little over 24 hours later, to continue the work of caring for it - anointing it, embalming it, giving it those final touches of respect and love.

If, in the first version of the story, Holy Saturday is not waiting for anything, then in this second version it is most certainly a waiting time. Because these women have left the body in the tomb for the Sabbath - for a day, and no longer. They are pausing, stopping, because that is what the rhythm of the week demands, but they will return as soon as they can to do what needs to be done - 'early in the morning', 'while it is still dark', even.

In this version, we might imagine the Holy Saturday conversation going on around the kitchen table of one of the women. There is, of course, the grief at what has been, the bewilderment, the anger, the lostness and more. But there is also a doggedness, an insistence, that what the Romans and the priests imagine is the last word most emphatically shall not be. 'What needs to be done tomorrow?' is the question they will be chewing over, through tears and hugs no doubt, but with steely determination in their eyes.

Tonight, here in Hodge Hill, a handful of the more foolhardy amongst us will gather, as the sun goes down, in the wasteland on the edge of the Firs & Bromford estate - the rubbish-strewn no-man's-land in the shadow of the M6 in which, just last Sunday, we enacted the scenes of the Passion Story, from the Garden of the Gethsemane to the crucifixion at Golgotha.

When I advertised it, I suggested people brought something to sit on, a flask of tea to keep us warm, a lantern or torch for when it gets dark (there are no street lights in the wasteland), and a story of hope to share.

One of my newer friends and fellow-travellers here replied to the invitation: 'I can do trying to be hopeful - do you think that's as good as actually being hopeful?'. I replied that I thought that was 'a very Holy Saturday place to be,' that 'today is the ultimate day of loose ends, and of feeling whatever you're feeling.' When I invited people to bring 'stories of hope' tonight, I imagined that some might bring 'neatly tied-up stories of hope fulfilled', but that many more are 'likely to be loose-ended, elusive stories of hope glimpsed, deferred, reached for' - even apparently beyond our grasp.

We will finish, tonight, by throwing seed bombs, made earlier today in our community activity morning, into the hard-to-reach, bramble-entangled, rubble-ridden corners of the wasteland that framed our 'Bromford Crucifixion' last Sunday. A ridiculous, defiant gesture. But laced with the smallest seeds of a dogged, determined, barely-imaginable hope.

Easter will come to our helplessness and guilt, with the breath of forgiveness and liberation. But Easter will come too to our resilient, determined staying put and returning. As with that handful of women on that first Holy Saturday, God will come and do something with our stubborn presence, our small 'cracks' in the 'finishedness' of the story - and turn it into an eruption into the world-as-we-thought-we-knew-it.

We will stay with the crucified. We will keep our eyes open to their torture, and our ears open to their cries. We shall not be moved. We will doggedly show our compassion and love by our continued presence.

And together, we will rise.

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