Silence and Stillness: Holy Saturday 2021

Today is a strange day. The drama of the crucifixion is over and we are left, tired, empty, devoid of the sacraments and the conventional rhythms of church life, to ponder what we do not see: the coming of the light, Christ’s harrowing of hell, and the promise of the resurrection. It is a day when we do nothing because God does everything. An early Christian writer captured the essence of this time by speaking of its silence and stillness:

Today a great silence reigns on earth, a great silence and a great stillness. A great 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. . . He has gone to search for Adam, our first father, 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 Adam in his bonds and Eve, captive with him – He who is both their God and the son of Eve . . . ‘I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. . . . I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.’

It is hard for us to do nothing. We seem to think everything depends on us, and life would certainly come to an end were we to fold our hands and expect food, shelter and everything else to fall into our laps. The kind of nothingness I am talking about is a recognition of God’s supremacy. It requires the silence of humility, the stillness of love, but we find both difficult. We tend to fill the universe with our noisy chatter and busy plans for this and that. One of the lessons of Holy Saturday is to let all that go, to allow God to be God in our lives, to own the mystery. Only then can we embrace the resurrection.

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7 thoughts on “Silence and Stillness: Holy Saturday 2021”

  1. Thank you for that. Who is the writer whom you quote? The harrowing of Hell is something scarcely mentioned now, and I am not sure even the Creed “ descended into Hell” is understood in this way anymore.
    Thank you again.

    Reply
  2. Thank you Sr Catherine. I love hearing this ancient homily, traditionally read in the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday. The first time I heard it was at a monastery, where I have since become an Oblate, and it struck me to the core. It is so powerful.

    Reply
  3. I always enjoy reading your column and came across an article in the Express yesterday that I thought might be of interest to you. It concerned the editor of Radio 4’s flagship current affairs programme, Sarah Sands, who to escape the “frantic excitability” of her life decided to make a pilgrimage to the world’s most inspiring monasteries. This adventure she turned into a book called – The Interior Silence: 10 Lessons from Monastic Life by Sarah Sands, thought you might be interested in this. Pax Tecum Sit, if I have translated that correctly.

    Reply

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