Lectio Divina: Holy Saturday
The light of the Bridegroom, shines beyond the night
Lord, on this day, there is only emptiness and solitude, absence and silence: a tomb, a lifeless body, and the dark of the night.
You are no longer visible, no word, no breathing. You are observing the Sabbath, in total rest. Where will I find You, now that I have lost You?
I will follow the women, I too will sit down together with them, in silence, to make ready the fragrances of love. From my heart, Lord, I will take the most delicate fragrances, the most precious, just as the woman did, when in her love she broke the alabaster jar and spread its perfume all around.
And I will call the Spirit, with the words of the bride, I will say again, “Awake, north wind, come, wind of the south! Breathe over my garden” (Song 4:16)
From the Gospel according to Luke (23:50-56)
Now there was a virtuous and righteous man named Joseph who, though he was a member of the council, had not consented to their plan of action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea and was awaiting the kingdom of God. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. After he had taken the body down, he wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb in which no one had yet been buried. It was the day of preparation, and the sabbath was about to begin. The women who had come from Galilee with him followed behind, and when they had seen the tomb and the way in which his body was laid in it, they returned and prepared spices and perfumed oils. Then they rested on the sabbath according to the commandment.
“Now”, a very simple expression, full of life and truth, marking the existing of a cry that breaks through the indifference, shakes us from our paralysis, and breaks through the veil. It stands in opposition to and as an escape from the great distance taken by the disciples of Jesus throughout His passion. Peter followed Him from afar (Lk 22:54); all those who knew Him and the women who had followed Him, looked on from a distance (Lk 23:49), but Joseph of Arimathea, steps forward, introduces himself to Pilate and asks for Jesus’ body. He is there, not listed among the absent, he is near, not standing at a distance, and he will never leave.
”It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning”. This gospel is situated in that moment that divides the dark of the night from the light of the new day. The Greek verb used by Luke seems to describe clearly the movement of this holy Saturday, that little by little emerges from the darkness and rises and grows beyond the light. In this resurrection movement we too are caught up, as we approach this scripture in faith. But, we have to choose, to remain in death, in the preparation, that is only preparation and not fulfillment, or accept to enter the movement in order to rise in the light. As the Lord says, “Awake, you who sleep, rise from the dead and Christ will shine on you” (Ep 5:14) using the same verb.
“who had come with Him from Galilee, followed”, These words are very beautiful, referring to the movement of the women, because they help us capture all the intensity of their participation in what was happening to Jesus. Indeed, Luke uses certain nuances, for example, using a form of the verb “to follow” that suggests greater intensity. The reference to “with Him” has the same effect. They went together, decisively, urged on by their love. Their journey, which began in Galilee, continues, even through death, and absence. Perhaps they feel that they are not alone and they begin to proclaim that He is present.
“and they saw the tomb”, It is wonderful to note that in the eyes of these women there is a light that is more powerful than the night! They can see beyond, they observe, they take note and they look intently and with real interest: in one word, they contemplate. The eyes of the heart open out to the reality of what is happening. As the gaze of Jesus reaches them, they bear within them His image, the face of that love that has visited and illumined their whole existence. Not even the drama of death and physical separation could extinguish the Sun that never sets, even though it is night.
“Then they returned”, As well as that, they still have the internal strength to make decisions, to do things, to set out once more on the way. They turn their backs on death, on absence, and they go home, like the victorious warrior. They carry no trophies, but in their hearts they bear a certainty, the courage of an ardent love.
“and prepared spices and ointments”. This was the task of the priests, as the Scriptures tell us (I Cr 9:30); it is a sacred duty, almost liturgical, almost like a prayer. The women of the Gospel, in fact, pray and succeed in transforming the night of death into a place of blessing, hope, loving and attentive care. No glance, no movement or gesture is without meaning for them. They prepare, or more precisely, as we see from the meaning of the corresponding Hebrew verb, they compose the perfumed aromas using all their wisdom to mix the necessary ingredients, in the right measure and proportion: a wholly feminine art, wholly maternal, born from within, from the womb, a privileged place of love. Holy Saturday, indeed, is like a womb that embraces life: an embrace that protects and nurtures the new creature that is about to be born.
“On the sabbath they rested”, What rest are we really talking about? What cessation, what suspension is coming about in the lives of these women in the depth of their hearts? The verb that Luke uses clearly suggests “silence”, a silence that turns into the main actor in this Sabbath, a Holy Saturday of waiting. There are no more words to be said, no declarations, no debate: all the world is silent, as the wind of the Holy Spirit blows (cf. Job 38:17) and the fragrance spreads. One song returns to the heart, in the night, (Ps 76:7): it is a song of love, repeated by the women, and with them, Joseph, and everyone, who like him, is not bound by the decisions and the actions of others (v.5) in this world. The words are the words that the Bride in the Song of Songs repeats, the last words, kept in reserve for the Beloved, when, right at the end of the book, she says: “Make haste, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag upon the mountains of spices”. (Song 8:14). This is the cry of the resurrection, the song of victory over death.
4. Questions for Reflection
Do I stand, perhaps, at a distance, not wanting to come any closer to Jesus, not wanting to look for Him, not wanting to wait for Him?
Would I be able to follow the women, and walk into the night, into death, into the emptiness?
Are my eyes open to see the place of the burial, the stone that hides the Lord Jesus? Can I experience contemplation, that is, can I see in some depth, beyond the surface? Do I believe in the presence of the Lord, stronger than the tomb and the rock?
Am I willing to go back, along with the women? That is, to go through a journey of conversion, change?
Is there space in me for silence, for the attention of the heart, for openness to God?
Do I feel arising within me the desire to proclaim the resurrection, the new life in Christ, all around me? Am I too, at least somewhat, like the women of the Gospel, who repeat the invitation of the Bridegroom, “Rise!”
5. Closing Prayer
Lord, for You the night is as clear as the day!
Song of Trust and Security in God
Protect me, O God, for in You I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from You.’
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
You hold my lot.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
I have a goodly heritage.
I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the Lord always before me;
because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
For You do not give me up to Sheol,
or let Your faithful one see the Pit.
You show me the path of life.
In Your presence there is fullness of joy;
in Your right hand are pleasures for evermore.
from Psalm 16