“Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained sitting there, facing the tomb.” (Matt. 27:61) Holy Saturday is the day of grief, the stunned silence of despair-tinged loss, the “I must be with him – I can’t leave him” movement of hearts who need to be with the one who has died. Wakes in modern times emerge partially from the tradition of watching and guarding the dead. And the women who stay facing the tomb are guards for Jesus. They mirror God’s own presence, celebrated in the psalm:
From where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord… The Lord will guard you from all evil, will always guard your life. The Lord will guard your coming and going both now and forever. (Ps. 121)
They must have wondered why help did not come. And no doubt their thoughts were incomplete and incoherent, as the just-now bereaved experience. But their presence is everything. Courage, love, abiding, poverty, need, grief, grace. They honor Jesus’ coming and going – and in this sacred companioning of the One they love are, no doubt, joined by his Abba too, who also watches and guards, grieves and waits, within time and beyond it.
Leonard Bowman in A Retreat with St. Bonaventure (quoted in Good Friday focused post) notes of Magdalen: “Hope… she clings there, waiting – stunned by the silence of God, her heart suspended in that stillness beyond despair where hope still lingers without any tangible shape or assurance.”
Bowman’s reflection on this Holy Saturday experience continues with a dialogue between the believer – who is hearing and experiencing the sacred story – and his guide. On Good Friday, this believer found himself in terror, falling, and in darkness. Now:
Believer: “My heart is spinning in darkness… And yet, while there is nowhere to stand and nothing to cling to, still the feeling of falling has softened, the terror of the dark has receded. Now I seem to be… it is a little like floating, as if I am borne up somehow in this whirling darkness. The terror of falling and the fear of darkness yield as the ‘I’ falls away and the heart is broken open, without claims and without defenses.”
Guide: “It is a gift of God that your heart may enter into these stories, touch and be touched.”
Believer: “I thought I was lost when the whirlwind tore me loose…” [NOTE: reference to experience of Good Friday]
Guide: “You were lost. How else do you expect you are now being borne upward…?”
Believer: “Is that what is happening? It feels rather like floating in emptiness.”
With Magdalene and the other Mary, that is what we do. Heart broken open, we wait and guard and watch and ache. We know the next moment’s story, but our presence to this longing and pain and ache which is about how much we love — this will hollow out our hearts. The invitation to remain facing the tomb is one that will form us in ways we cannot even imagine.
There are life seasons that are this Holy Saturday experience, and many (perhaps some of us) who live in them now. They are difficult times where courage is just in remaining and pouring out our hearts like water in the presence of the Lord (Lamentations 2:19a). Let us pray for those living this season. As we approach the next moment, let us pray too for those in the spinning darkness and perhaps terror that is the Good Friday moment; and for those in any life/faith/spirit moment of the Triduum. Wherever they and we are, our Lord has and is already there. United with him, we and those we care about are safe. This is where it is wonderful that our God’s name is WITH – Emmanuel – God WITH us. Hope will not disappoint, we are told (Romans 5). Face whatever tomb, with heart broken open, and know the invitation from God to be exactly who you are exactly where you are with him — and may this moment of yours be a place of holy encounter and tender grace.
Magdalene and Mary, remain-ers and guards, teach us and be with us. Lord who lies entombed, give us hope in the midst of all death/s. We hold on and wait for what the next moment will show us. You have entered all our tombs to not only heal, but die with us and for us, and before us. Wake us to you with us. Amen.
This we have as an anchor of the soul, sure and firm, which reaches into the interior behind the veil, where Jesus has entered on our behalf as forerunner…” (Hebrews 6: 19-20a)