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.

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The End Times

This last week before Advent is full of sombre warnings about the end times and the coming reign of God. With the mounting tension between Russia and Turkey and the seemingly inescapable rise of Wahabist violence and religious intolerance, it would be easy to identify world events with Armageddon. Easy, but wrong. What scripture refers to as the end times is actually the beginning of something new, something infinitely better. However gloomy we may feel about the international situation, however worried we may be that we are on the brink of yet another war, we must hold fast to our hope and prepare ourselves for what is to come. This is a time for prayer, for the reformation of our lives, for hastening the coming day of the Lord by the purity and zeal with which we live. We are not helpless puppets. God has dignified us with an essential role in his plan of salvation, but it is not something we can put off to a tomorrow that never comes. It is today that we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling. He who has neither beginning nor end is also at work, and what he wills must eventually come to pass. Our deliverance is at hand!

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