Holy Saturday Reflection
Today is a day that demands patience, waiting, and commitment to enduring our present reality. We embrace our uncertainties. We reflect on the human condition, wherein neither the good nor the bad is quick to dismiss the other—both remain.
In this illumination we see four panels reminiscent of the four classic elements—earth, water, fire, and air. First is a revision of the Creation illumination, in which we see God bring order from the chaos for the first time. In the second panel, the dove is the symbol of peace emerging from the story of Noah and the great flood. Third, there is the word Shekinah, meaning God’s presence, which is written in black, red, and gold and is enflamed in the representation of the pillar of fire. Lastly, there is the rendering of Ezekiel’s vision of the kingdom, where water flows out from the temple causing life to flourish and the leaves on the trees bear healing for all.
To the right of the final panel we see “I WAS THERE.” It is faint and you may do a double take to notice it. It is not written on any one panel, but it is in the white space, the negative space, the space that is otherwise not filled and likely not regarded until we see the words, “I was there.” God manifest in Wisdom has been, continues to be, and will always remain ever-present in all of creation.
Yesterday we heard the words of Jesus recounted—and perhaps sometimes we find ourselves muttering or even groaning them aloud—“my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These words linger as today we are asked to rest in the depths of the chasm between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, the negative space of the Christian story. What do we make of this day? How do we hold these contrasting words—“I was there” and “why have you forsaken me?”—together at once? I suggest we give our minds a rest today and ponder this in our hearts and bodies instead. How is God present in God’s absence, or absent in God’s presence? How has God been both present and absent through our agonies, times of abandonment, rejections, and our labored breaths?
Tonight after the sun fades out from behind the clouds the whole sky will become dark. Only then does the Vigil take place, beginning with the service of light. We gather around a blazing fire with the rest of our faith community. As evidence of the fire’s spontaneous flickering, we see the light dance upon the faces of those crowded around it. Just as the four elements are depicted in this illumination, we encounter them in the liturgy of the Easter Vigil. After the service of light ignited by flames casting away the darkness, the liturgy of the Word begins. With the air filling our lungs, seven passages are read from the Old Testament, attesting to salvation much like this illumination attests to the presence of Wisdom throughout history. Then purifying and renewing waters are poured over the catechumens as we celebrate their initiation into the Church. Finally, all come together around the table, united by the fruits of the earth—bread and wine, Jesus fully present.
As we stand today, caught between our sins and our sanctity, may we surrender our insatiable desires to be always in control and reconcile differences. Like the four elements of earth, water, fire, and air, our God does not move and act in predictable ways. For that we are thankful. We praise you Lord for your promise to reorder your new creation from chaos once more. Amen.
Rachel Gabelman is a Master of Divinity candidate at Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary. She serves as a graduate assistant with Seeing the Word.