Between What Is and What Is to Come
Holy Saturday is a liminal event, a time between what is and what is to come, between the death and the resurrection. This is not to say that the first disciples of Jesus were convinced that they were engaged in what we have come to know as a vigil, a time of watchfulness and wakefulness, as some of them were persuaded that in fact the end had come, not only of Jesus’ life, but of the community of disciples. Luke tells us of Cleopas and an unnamed disciple who are leaving Jerusalem after the events of Jesus’ passion and are speaking in the past tense about Jesus and his ministry with the Risen Lord: “we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place” (Luke 24:21).
Somewhere between the crucifixion and the resurrection, hope had been lost for some of the disciples of Jesus. Somewhere between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, what was to come, the conquest of death, was understood to be a false hope. That is the confusion that Holy Saturday can bring: while one waits in hope and watchfulness, the fear, doubts, and drudgery of life overwhelm faith in the hope of the Risen Lord.
We do not have to struggle in the same way the first disciples did to understand the resurrection of Jesus, but the Easter Vigil of Holy Saturday still places us in the confusion of what it means to live as people of Easter, of what it means to await Jesus’ resurrection. For the Easter Vigil places us in the same liminal place as the first disciples in two specific ways. We, too, live between the old life and the new life, both here on earth as we struggle against sinfulness, but also in our hope of the world to come and our own resurrection.
The first liminal place which we share with the first disciples is the struggle to live out the Easter hope in our daily lives. This is seen in the renewal of our baptismal vows, for from the time of the early church, baptism was associated with Holy Saturday. The Apostle Paul writes,
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:3-4)
In the Easter Vigil, “we give expression to this fresh awareness by repeating the promises we once made to renounce Satan and to serve God faithfully. The whole Lenten observance is intended to lead us up to this moment and to prepare us for a genuine and sincere renewal of our baptismal commitment. Like the other rites of this night it is a symbolic yet real resurrection with Christ to a new life of grace” (“Easter Vigil.” New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., vol. 5, Gale, 2003, pp. 14-17.) We live in the hope that “we too may live a new life.”
The second way the Easter Vigil puts us in that same liminal place as the first disciples is that we continue to share with them the watchfulness we need to maintain as we await the return of Christ in glory to establish God’s kingdom. We share this fully with the first disciples because we yearn for that time, as they did, when God will be all in all, when death is conquered, and sin is no more. It can be easy to lose hope, but Holy Saturday is that time when we challenge ourselves to renew our hope and to renew our Christian lives. In faith we know, Easter rising will dawn.
Dr. John W. Martens
Professor of Theology