April 23: Awaiting dawn in the darkness
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I’ve often wondered what that first Holy Saturday was like for the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem. The Gospels are mostly silent when it comes to this final day in our Lenten journey; the detailed narratives skip from the anguish and despair of Good Friday to the hopeful wonder of the Easter morning discovery. And perhaps this is an understandable omission. Would we not also, in our remembrance of this Holy Week, and in our own personal journeys of suffering and loss, prefer to move directly from despair and death into hope and rebirth?
We don’t really know what the followers of Jesus did on this day all those centuries ago. Bound by the Sabbath guidelines to refrain from the busywork that might have numbed the pain of Calvary’s horrors, I imagine the disciples were burdened with the dead weight of raw grief, images of death’s cruel reality still seared in their minds. The Scriptures tell us that darkness fell over the whole land on the afternoon of Good Friday, as Jesus hung dying on the cross. I think that for the first disciples, that next day must have felt like a time of great darkness, as well – the darkness of fear, of crushed hopes, of broken dreams.
In the late 1980s, the poet Brian Wren wrote the hymn text “Joyful is the Dark” in an attempt to celebrate the usually neglected positive implications of darkness in the biblical tradition. The poem’s fourth verse describes the great darkness at the end of Passion Week, but it ends with a striking phrase: “Never was that midnight touched by dread and gloom; darkness was the cradle of the dawning.” I love the idea that the darkness we so often associate with our pain, our fear, our own metaphorical deaths – this “hopeless” darkness cradles in its pitch-black arms the new life that is about to be born in us. The sorrow and anguish of that first Holy Saturday were not some cruel interlude between death and rebirth; God was preparing in this darkness the miracle of the morning.
In today’s Scripture passage, the Apostle Peter testifies to this miraculous resurrection as he speaks to a crowd at Caesarea. We hear again in his words the promise of a new life that is for all people – even those previously thought to be lost in darkness. This Holy Saturday, may we hold onto the confident hope of Peter’s words, trusting, as we await the dawn of Christ’s resurrection, that the darkness cradles our new life, as well.