Something is different about today. Silence. Stillness. Expectation. We are stuck in between Christ’s agony on the cross and his Resurrection in triumph. Worn out from the events of that Friday called Good, we feel it as we awkwardly await Easter. Holy Saturday is the day we remember God’s descent into death. Today, and only today, the words of the notorious 19th century atheistic philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche ring true: “God is dead!”
We saw yesterday to what length God goes, and continues to go, to reconcile us to himself. His wounds are his proof. Christ takes upon himself our sins and makes reparation for them before the justice of the Father. In this act of reconciliation, we are brought into relationship with God. In receiving God as Father and Mary as Mother at the foot of the cross, we pass from mere mortality to boundless life. We are different now. We are sons.
But Christ is Lord of life AND death. Not even physical annihilation could stop this mighty champion from recklessly gathering to himself the souls of the just. In perfect obedience to the will of the Father, Jesus who is Life allows himself to fall into death. Yesterday we saw for ourselves how far Christ will go, but today we cannot see as he descends into a realm we know not. Nor can we hear or smell or taste or touch…
Before this mystery we cannot help but ask: “Where are you?” Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) offers us a profound insight into the commonality between Holy Saturday and our own age. He writes: “Holy Saturday is the day of the ‘death of God’ the day which expresses the unparalleled experience of our age, anticipating the fact that God is simply absent, that the grave hides him, that he no longer awakes, no longer speaks, so that one no longer needs to gainsay him but can simply overlook him.”
Though our scientific progress promises longer life and the alleviation of suffering, our World Wars and wars all around the world expose the irony. Our politicians ignorantly believe that the separation of Church and State means that the truths of faith, upon which our nation rests, have no place in influencing public policy. But we need not look to the secularity of our culture to prove Benedict’s claim; we know it for ourselves. Before the tragedies of our lives, say the death of a loved one, and our seemingly unanswered prayers, do we not ask: “Where are you?” Perhaps the silence of Holy Saturday is not so different from every other day in our experience of modernity.
St. Thomas Aquinas writes that before an object that is difficult to attain we may either hope for it or despair of it. In the case of Holy Saturday, the ‘something good’ is God. The difficulty lies in his death, his silence. Two options: hope or despair. On the one hand, “despair is the absolute extreme of self-love. It is reached when a person deliberately turns his back on all help from anyone else in order to taste the rotten luxury of knowing himself to be lost,” writes Thomas Merton. On the other, Aquinas writes that, “the object of hope is a good, difficult but possible to obtain by oneself or by another.” Thus, the principal difference between hope and despair is whether we rely upon ourselves or we look to another for aid.
As men, we seek to prove ourselves. We want to show the world that we have what it takes. That we have what it takes to embrace the fullness of our manhood in a culture that has manipulated all things masculine. That we have what it takes to provide, protect, and establish others, especially our wives and children. And rightly, we should seek to do so. However, in this proving we can become self-reliant. Rather than acknowledging that as fallen men we stand in need, we put on the mask of independence. Naturally then, self-reliant despair is all too familiar for men, even good men.
Holy Saturday confronts us with the difficulty of God’s silence in his descent into death. Upon whom will we rely to bring us through? In this mystery of Christ’s death, our reason is exhausted. We can approach it, but we cannot grasp it. Death shatters our mask of independence, but we can choose to willingly wallow in our despair as if the difficulty is insurmountable. Or we can look to another, Another. Pope Benedict XVI writes: “Holy Saturday is the ‘no man’s land’ between death and Resurrection, but One has entered into this ‘no man’s land.’”
My brothers, Christ has entered into this realm and dealt a fatal blow to mortality itself. Today, on Holy Saturday, the darkest hour in human history becomes the origin of the greatest hope. Only having fallen to the base of creation is Christ able to be raised, and to raise us in return, higher than the heavens.