There is a Great Silence

Today is Holy Saturday. The day Jesus spent in the tomb. For a reflection today, I repost what I wrote in March 2005 in this blog:

Today is Holy Saturday. The Church throughout the whole world is silent today. Most all sacramental functions are forbidden- even Holy Communion may only be given as Viaticum. The Church is silent today as we, in solidarity with the original disciples, wait and pray for the return of our Lord. 2000 years ago, the apostles were frightened for they had not understood the lessons Christ gave to them before his death. They did not fully understand what his death meant for him or for them. On this day, after his death and before his rising to new life, they sat and prayed.

The prayers of our Sacred Triduum are on-going. We started this season on the evening of Holy Thursday with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. We departed in silence and we gathered again on Good Friday. Without any introduction, we began to pray again as we recalled our Savior’s Passion. We left again in silence. Tonight, we will gather again in darkness without fanfare or introduction. We gather together to hold vigil for the return of Jesus the Christ.

We are lucky for through our place in time we know that the death of the Son of Man was not an end. We are lucky for we know that it was only through his death that the beginning of new life may be found. The death he died he died to sin once and for all. Today, we join outside the bounds of time with all the Christian faithful before and after us in praying for the rising of Christ to new life. Just as in Advent as we pray for the coming of the Lord through both his nativity, as a reminder of what happened 2000 years ago, and also his Second Coming, so we too during this Sacred day pray in silence for his light to shine in the world once again. 2000 years ago, they prayed for his return to life. Today, we pray that the Light of Christ will shine in us again. Today, we pray that the Risen Lord will again conquer sin and death and enter into our hearts.

Below is a beautiful ancient homily on Holy Saturday. In it, Christ decends to find all those who had fallen to the sleep of death and he finds Adam. Christ explains his sacrifice to him in great symbolic language.

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. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held 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 me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

Our shepherd, the source of the water of life, has died. The sun was darkened when he passed away. But now man’s captor is made captive.
– This is the day when our Savior broke through the gates of death.
He has destroyed the barricades of hell, overthrown the sovereignty of the devil.
– This is the day when our Savior broke through the gates of death.

— From an ancient homily of Holy Saturday, Office of Readings






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