Holy Saturday 2017

Once again we have reached Holy Saturday, a day of great silence and stillness as earth awaits the Resurrection. Our churches are empty of colour and warmth, there are no sacraments to affirm the bonds between this world and the next, and we experience to the full what life without Christ is like. For a monk or nun, indeed for most of us, I suspect, life is largely lived in ‘Holy Saturday mode’ as we go on, as best we can, waiting, waiting, waiting for God to act. Today, when the threat of war hangs heavy over the world, the illusion of control with which we try to comfort ourselves at other times is revealed for what it is: sheer illusion. Most of the big things that affect our lives are entirely beyond our control, but we ignore that. We like to think that we are in charge — only we aren’t, really. Does that mean we are mere puppets, eking out our existence in bitterness of soul, without hope? Surely not. God created us in his own image and likeness, and there is in each of us something that reflects, uniquely and beautifully, our Creator. We are called to co-operate with him, to allow grace to transform us, but we waste so much time trying to resist, to do things our own way. It takes Holy Saturday to jerk us back into reality.

The ancient tradition of the Harrowing of Hell, when Christ descended into the underworld to release those who had died before his coming is a wonderful reminder of the infinite mercy and tenderness of God. When we cannot act, he does — with limitless power. Today is a day when we are invited to think about this unseen activity of God and the restoration to humankind of its original dignity and freedom in Christ. We do not know what the future holds, either for us as individuals or as a world, but of this we can be sure. In the bleakness of Holy Saturday, as night pases into dawn, something extraordinary will happen. We shall be one with the events of two thousand years ago. Christ will rise, never to die again; and we shall rise with him. All the sin and shame with which we have marred his features in us will be wiped away. We shall sing of the ‘happy fault, the necessary sin of Adam’ which gave us such and so great a Redeemer, and all creation will respond with its own great ‘alleluia’. This is our Easter faith, and already it casts its light upon the world.


Success . . . or Failure?

As far as I can tell, all our monastery web sites have been successfully moved to U.K. hosts. There are some broken links and so on that I shall be tidying up over the next few weeks, as time and energy allow, before I attempt to upload the re-designed sites; and I am not wholly convinced that all our email accounts are yet functioning as they should. On the whole, however, we are patting ourselves and our colleagues on the back and congratulating ourselves on a successful move. But what weasel words ‘success’ and ‘successful’ are! They are seductive, with their hint of standing out from the crowd, of accomplishment and triumph. To fail or, even worse, to be a failure, is something we all shrink from, especially as many of us have a secret fear that we are not all we pretend to be but are indeed, in some sense, failures. We devise many ways of hiding failure from ourselves and do great violence to the English language and to our own integrity in our attempts to mask the truth; but it doesn’t really wash. We succeed or we fail. End of story.

Only not quite. One of the paradoxes of Christianity is that we succeed through failure. The death of Christ on the Cross was the most abject failure in history; it was also the supreme triumph, for it led to the Resurrection and the redemption of us all. It can be hard to see the same pattern working itself out in our lives; but it is there. As we go on, we often see that the very things we regarded as disasters have actually turned out for our good. As human beings, we like the illusion of control; but it is only an illusion. We must do our best and leave the outcome to God. That is not quietism under another name: it is submission to the will of God, the embracing of our vocation and our path to holiness.