About 12 years ago I hiked up to Black Balsam Knob at 4:00 am. It’s one of my favorite places to get up early and watch sunrise, but this particular morning was special.
The moon was setting in the west just about an hour before sunrise in the east. Because of the 360 degree views it offers, I intended to photograph both moonset and sunrise on the same morning. The thing I forgot to factor into my plans was the wind. It’s often really windy up there above 6000 ft. It was so windy, in fact, that I could not get my camera tripod to hold still, but it was beautiful to watch. There are no trees on Black Balsam Knob. It’s a huge grassy bald. The wind was whipping the grass and in the moonlight it looked like glowing white ocean waves.
When the moon did finally set over the mountains and go down, something almost magical took place. The wind suddenly stopped. It was like a light switch flipped off. Everything went dark and everything became calm. There I was in the tall grass and stillness without any light except the faint glow of a red line on the eastern horizon. When the sun did finally start to rise, the wind picked back up again, but in that dark, quiet in-between time I finally felt the full weight of the word, “twilight.”
In ancient Celtic folk stories there was something about that liminal period of the night called twilight. It was mystical and revelatory. Ghosts visit with regrets and fresh opportunities. It was the longest part of the night when it’s been dark for a long time, but it sits just on the edge of the first light of dawn. The playwright, Sarah Kane, called it the 4:48 psychosis hour when the brain’s chemical imbalance peaks and desperation visits, but sanity and sobering clarity often stops by for a visit as well.
That is where we find ourselves on Holy Saturday morning. We are in that quiet twilight between the violent, noisy darkness of Good Friday and glorious music that dawns on Easter morning.
Jesus is buried. The tomb is sealed. It is sabbath and no one is moving around. The followers of Jesus are sequestered behind closed doors because of fear. The world they knew has stopped and nothing will ever be the same. All of their ideas and plans for the future have abruptly ended and what remains is confusion.
I think Holy Saturday, of all days, speaks to us where we are right now in this global pandemic: Like the disciples we are between boundaries wandering through the in-between. What we’ve experienced and what is yet to be. We mourn what we have lost, but we don’t fully know what the world will like now that we’ve come through it.
Those early followers of Jesus were not only having to mourn the death of their beloved teacher and deal with their own guilt and shame for running away and abandoning Jesus, they were also having to reckon with the death of their hopes and dreams that they had wrapped him in.
In the Gospel according to St. Luke we hear an echo of this in the words of the disciples on the road to Emmaus: “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”
Holy Saturday morning puts us in company with many people we usually overlook and miss in the church. We are so tuned in to Good Friday and Easter that we often miss those who are living in the twilight. We do a great job with trauma and grief and we do a pretty good job with hope and resurrection, but what about the people who have to sit in the silence of the in-between times?
It is a strange and silent space to be in.
So here’s the thing about this space. It too is holy ground. It is Holy Saturday and just because it’s quiet doesn't mean it’s less important or less holy than Good Friday or Easter Sunday. I want you to know that God is present in the absence of noise and action, sometimes especially in the absence of noise and action. I personally believe those Holy Saturday times are when some of the hardest and holiest work we ever do takes place. Far from the crowds and the main stage there is often something vital going on.
It’s the time when we are wrestling with surrendering past hopes and dreams and making room for something new to emerge.
Mary Oliver concluded her famous poem “In Blackwater Woods” with these words:
“To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”
My sisters and brothers, no one ever plans to end up here on Holy Saturday, but we all eventually find that our story takes us through the twilight. It is the time when God offers us the messy grace to let go of what we can no longer hold on to, so we lay hold of what is about to arrive.
There are no promises on Holy Saturday. There is only waiting and more waiting and somehow in that waiting, we touch the soil in which something new is about to come alive.