Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep.
These are the opening sentences in the non-scriptural reading in today’s Office of Readings. The author, it seems, is unknown. The liturgy simply tells us that it is “an ancient homily on Holy Saturday.” The description rings true. Holy Saturday is not quite like any other day in the liturgical calendar. We experience a pause after the intense liturgical activity of Holy Thursday and Good Friday. There is a sense of expectancy, and, as the author of the reading above put it, “a great silence and stillness.”
So it seems, to us. If we read on, we see that The King may appear, to us, to be “asleep” but that is not really the case:
He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory.
Jesus Doesn’t Rest
The period between Death and Resurrection is one of stillness and waiting in our world, but Jesus doesn’t rest. And why would Christ, fresh from crucifixion and death, seek out Adam and Eve? It does seem like something strange, doesn’t it? Our homilist shows him telling out first parents:
I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image.
Christ addresses these words here to Adam and Eve, but He also addresses them to us, their descendants. God did not create our first parents in order to hold them “prisoner in hell.” Nor did he create any of us for that purpose. Out of his love for all of us he is calling us away from Death: Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.
“The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory.“
The Harrowing of Hell or Christ in Limbo, by Albrecht Durer, 1510
In Search of the Lost Sheep
The picture our homilist paints here of Christ is a reflection of what Jesus says of himself in the Gospels. Consider this passage from the Gospel of Matthew:
If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. (Matthew 18: 12-13)
God is Seeking Us
This is one of numerous passages that show us how intent Our Lord is on gathering us to himself. We often speak of ourselves as “seeking God,” but that’s not really the way it works, we’re deceiving ourselves. The Benedictine Mark Barrett in his book Crossing: Reclaiming the Landscape of Our Lives says:
Biblical images of God – shepherd, farmer, lover – always make God the one who is active. He takes the initiative . . . God is the seeker, and we are the object of the search. This is the strangest lesson of all.
Yes, something strange is happening. While our world seems silent and still, under the surface Our Lord is working out of our view to bring back all his lost sheep. We might want to take some time during the quiet of Holy Saturday to meditate on Christ’s saving action, and prepare ourselves to return to him when the Resurrected Lord comes back for us on Easter Sunday.
The Triduum & Easter 2022: