Holy Saturday….Always that has seemed to me to be the strangest sort of name to put on this day. Holy? What is holy about utter silence, utter stillness, utter death? Hallowed, yes; but not holy, at least not yet, not for a few more hours. And so today I am caught all day between two tensions. I remember the horror and grief of yesterday, and I yearn toward the release and relief of tomorrow.
Yesterday, a little after two o’clock, I did as I do every year on Good Friday. I put my communion kit in the car, along with two heavy-duty ziploc bags and a garden trowel, and I headed out from my house to Ruthe’s.
Every Wednesday when I am in town, I do the same thing, of course, because Ruth is house-bound in a wheel chair and I am the Lay Eucharistic Minister from our parish who takes the eucharist to her. Or that is how things were in the beginning, years ago. By now and after all these years of Wednesdays together, she is as near to me as any human being could ever be, short of marriage or kinship. We are friends at that subterranean level where channels flow quietly, watering both our souls.
So, other than the fact it was Friday instead of Wednesday, only two things were different about yesterday. The most obvious one is the business of my packing a trowel and plastic bags in with the normal eucharistic tools. The second is less obvious, but equally significant.
On Wednesdays, when I am to go to Ruthe for us to celebrate the mass together, I tend to show up sometime between three and three-thirty, depending on the load at my office and how many phones calls I can lay aside in order to leave for the day. On Good Friday, though, the timing must be as precise as it is random on other days of the year. On Good Friday, I have to be to Ruthe’s in time for us to get her out onto the side deck of her house.
Charles, Ruthe’s husband, built this small bit of quietness for her years ago. There’s even a carefully pitched, sloping ramp so we can roll her chair down to the deck with minimum difficulty. And once we are there, we are no more than eight or ten inches off the ground itself, which is what matters. It matters because Ruthe’s wheel chair, a plain yard chair for me, and a garden table-altar set for the eucharist have to all be in place by fifteen minutes before 3 o’clock. It is at fifteen minutes before 3 o’clock, at fifteen minutes before the ninth hour of the Roman day, at the quarter hour before the hour of His death, that we begin the words of the holy meal.
“The Lord be with you,” I say.
“And also with you,” Ruthe answers.
And so it was yesterday and so it will be for many ages to come. We moved through the words of the mass and through the sharing of the bread and wine. We said our closing prayers; and while Ruthe watched, I sat on the edge of the deck and began to dig a hole just where the front of the deck meets the edge of the walkway. It never has to be a big hole. That always surprises me, just as it did again yesterday. Such a small hole in the huge earth…six, eight inches deep and no more than another ten or so across.
I brush the earth from my hands and turn back to the altar-table. Its few vessels have to be wrapped back into place in my communion kit, and the linens folded away for some other time. Then I take out the sacks, and Ruthe sucks in her breath sharply, her eyes tearing just for a moment as she watches. I lift from the kit the small glass container that holds the reserved, consecrated wine and the little brass box that holds the reserved, consecrated wafers. It is the only physical access we have, she and I…the body and blood of Jesus…and we will not have even them for these three days. I put the wine in one bag, sealing it carefully against damage during the time of its burial. Then I do likewise with the coffer of bread.
While Ruthe watches, I set the blessed elements deep into the small hole, trowel the earth back over it, take up the flat rock Charles has set there for us, and then tamp it securely in place. As the rock bites into the new-turned ground and as the clock strikes three, I say the words. Every year and always the same. I say: “Jesus of Nazareth is dead.” Then, saying no more words even of farewell, I roll Ruthe back up the ramp, and I leave. The only relief in our parting is that the trowel still sits waiting in the corner where the front of the deck intersects the line of the sidewalk.
So all is quiet in Lucy, Tennessee this sad day. My kit is empty, any communion impossible, lacking as I do, all the things necessary to effect it. And all will be quiet until tomorrow morning.
Tomorrow morning, God being willing, I will get up at six, dress in jeans, and head to Ruthe’s. She will be waiting for me on the deck. If it is chilly, as I think it is going to be tomorrow, she will be wrapped in blankets; but she will be waiting, though she may not be alone. Sometimes, a neighbor or two will also be sitting there too, all of them silent in the early dusk.
There is no word spoken, no greeting, no exchange between or amongst us as we wait. We wait, of course, for first light. We wait for the dawning. And before the sun breaks the horizon, but just as the rose light signals its coming, I will pick up the trowel at last and begin to dig. As the sun breaks across the horizon, I will lift out the holy bread and wine, and say, “Christ is risen!” loudly enough for the whole world to hear me, should it be listening. And Ruthe, along with others who may have come, will in turn shout back, “He is risen indeed!” Then we will open our sacks and spread our feast, and feed one another in the promise of Easter and with the food of faith.
We will weep a bit, but not with bitter tears. No, these will be tears of joy and relief that this time of awful interruption is over for another year. And we will remember and tell each other about other Easters and sometimes even, when she has been feeling well enough to make them, we will share a warm hot-cross bun in Ruthe’s kitchen before we scatter to our various families….
…but always – always – it goes with me. Always, in Easter memories, there lingers that haunting taste of this day–this Holy Saturday–when there is nothing.
May God have mercy on all our souls.