That is what travelers facing terminal illness found in the Middle Ages in places called hospes–inviting places where they could experience rest and comfort as they awaited death.
In these homes, they were allowed to rest in peace.
That is the idea behind the modern Hospice movement. Palliative care for those near the end-of-life. It is in this care we now find our two remaining parents…my father and my wife’s mother.
Arching over these days like an umbrella is the truth that hospice a season of waiting. It is a time when each day’s journey simply involves caring and comfort for the loved one whose life is on hold.
Some view hospice as the time leading up to death. But because I believe there is more to life than here and now, I am caring for loved ones waiting for new life.
Holy Saturday, the Saturday between the cross and the tomb, was very much the hospice time for Jesus. Traditionally, church calendars have called it Black Saturday, even draping their altars in black cloth. It was a dark day of waiting.
A black Sabbath.
The old hymn says, “Lo, in the grave He lay, Jesus, my Savior. Waiting the coming day, Jesus, my Lord.”
John blandly records, “At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” (John 19:41-42)
That first Easter Sabbath, Jesus’ disciples were fearfully waiting in an upper room filled with unfinished business, unrealized hope and an uncertain future. The ladies who followed, served and loved Jesus were gathering spices and clothes in which to bury their highest hopes and fondest dreams.
It appears no one was actually waiting expectantly for what Jesus had promised. Over and over He had told them, but they simply did not get it.
But remember, the disciples didn’t have the privilege of hindsight like we do. They did not know what would happen the next day. Their tomb was not empty. All they had was a dead hero.
For them, Holy Saturday was a place of waiting and wondering.
For us, it is too often a forgotten day. The one day in the epic saga of Easter that seems to pale in significance to the passion of Friday and the power of Sunday.
I think that is a critical error.
In point of fact, Holy Saturday is just as important as its bookends of Cross and Resurrection.
That first Easter Sabbath wasn’t black and it wasn’t empty. When it appeared Jesus was doing nothing, he was actually scaring the Hell out of the opposition.
According to the ancient creeds it was on this day that He “descended into Hell”. Paul noted that He “led captivity captive and gave gifts to men”. Jesus was:
- Gathering up what belonged to the Father.
- Serving notice that nothing–including death itself–had the power to separate us from His love.
We do not know what any of that really means…except that what He did on Holy Saturday gave Good Friday its meaning and Resurrection Sunday its glory.
On Good Friday the work of Jesus to provide salvation for all humanity was fully accomplished. “It is finished!”
On Resurrection Sunday the eternal plan of God was validated and verified by Jesus’ triumph over death and the grave.
But on Holy Saturday that message of passion and victory was hand-delivered to the lair of Satan.
Jesus invaded his space to give Him the message face-to-face and eye-to-eye.
- God was changing the world in the stillness of the tomb.
- God was defeating His enemies in the silence of death.
- God was re-writing history while His friends sulked in hopelessness.
- God was winning when it seemed all was lost.
For me, this Black Sabbath represents so much of what real life-experience is on the earth. It is the parenthesis of life…the in-between.
The dream has been realized, but the true is still coming.
These are the uncertain times when I am forced to ask myself, do I believe in the dark what He promised in the light? Do I have faith to cling to what I cannot see even more than what I have seen destroyed?
This silent space is the place where faith becomes trust.
Our fears are unearthed, our doubts unveiled and our motives uncovered in these moments of wondering. What we truly, authentically believe at the depth of our being is revealed in the moments where God does not seem to be acting right.
That is what we remember on this black Sabbath…the pregnant pause between what was and what will be.