Holy Saturday

10 April 2004 | Faith & Society

The reflection for Good Friday imagined thoughts of Jesus on the cross, patterned by the account with which the Bible opens of the creation of the world in six days, followed by the sabbath – the day of rest. This reflection for the sabbath before Easter takes a further step of imagination, beginning with the Genesis account of the first sabbath.


Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.

‘Come’, said the angel, so I got up and followed her. 

‘Where are we?’ I said.

‘The sabbath of desolation,’ she replied. ‘The space between the crucifixion and the resurrection.’ The angel seemed to think this was answer. I understood too little to disagree.

We climbed a ridge whose top we could not see. The sand, like the air, coated us in grime. For miles in every direction, the only signs of life – if indeed we were alive – were our own footprints.

After a while I said, ‘This is a terrible place. Are we the only ones in it?’

Her eyes slapped me across the face. ‘Oh no! In the future, whole centuries of mankind will choose to live here.’ We stepped past a strange sight – a crushed box of metal in the sand, inscribed in some language ‘Coca-Cola’ – and looked down into the valley behind the ridge.

This I never thought to see: a desert of centuries, and generations as numerous as the stars choosing to live here.

Their apartment blocks and houses and roads and shopping malls stretched to the horizon. ‘These are the generations for whom the crucifixion has always happened but never the resurrection,’ the angel explained.

Here in the sabbath of desolation are a people who have said, God is dead (or at least resting). Their understanding of the laws in nature is so full that of his inaction they need no convincing.

Theirs is a sabbath of isolation, where the empty places are full of people and the people are full of empty places.

Many things cannot be, or cannot be done, in this twilight life. The list of these things and the scribes of this temple who add to it are different, yet familiar to me. Here is a people who eat endlessly, but nothing nourishes. They heal miraculously, but are always sick. Everything is possible except to do good, because good does not exist. Here they understand everything, but nothing has meaning.

I became angry and turned to the angel saying, ‘But I am the lord of the sabbath. When I was on this earth, when we were hungry we plucked grain and ate, though the scribes said we should not. When we encountered illness, we healed.  We saved lives and forgave sins.

‘I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. Even in the sabbath of desolation, my Father is still working and I also am working. Do you doubt that we shall finish our work? As I told you: who, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build, and was not able to finish.’ ‘

And the angel said, ‘I do remember you saying something like that.’


Biblical references for the reflection for Holy Saturday:

Matthew 12:1-14; Luke 6:1-11; John 5:1-18; Luke 14:28-30

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