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Lenten Reflections: The Circus and Holy Saturday

Woman_at_ntl_gatheringSaturday, March 30, 2013

Holy Saturday

Lectionary reading:

Romans 6: 3-11

By Paul B. Dornan

When we drove to Buffalo early in January for my beloved sister’s memorial service, we found that Jean’s sons had set aside a room of her apartment with her toys, masks, artwork, all for distribution among her five brothers.  For many, many years Jean and I had given each other gifts for Christmas, and, since we both liked toys, I had given her many of the remembrances in that room.  I claimed many of those gifts for my inheritance and brought them home.  And, since both she and I had selected gifts for each other that we ourselves might otherwise have bought for ourselves—we were that close—Jean’s wind-up toys and mine meshed seamlessly into one collection.  Now we have displayed in our living room a circus scene, half of toys that I had given Jean and half of toys that she had given me.  Her ferris wheel and my merry-go-round, her clown on a scooter, my elephant with a ball.

It seems to me that most Protestant churches more or less forget Holy Saturday. Even those believers who commemorate Maundy Thursday and Good Friday spend the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter dying eggs and hiding them, baking, preparing for Easter dinner.  But, as Alan Lewis reminds us in his book, Between Cross and Resurrection:  A Theology of Holy Saturday, the glory of Easter is completely lost unless we first concentrate on the horror of the cross and the terrible certainty of the grave.  If we more or less arrive at the stark beauty of the empty tomb without first encountering the cross and grave, then the glory is pallid and cheap.  Moreover, we avoid the connection between the hope of the resurrection and the sufferings and death which is our own sure fate. James Cone, in the book The Cross and the Lynching Tree, makes a similar argument when he claims that 21st century Americans can’t begin to feel the triumph of Easter unless they sense the terror, unpredictability, and humiliation of the closest thing to crucifixion in American experience—the lynching tree. 

In the words of the Apostle Paul, “You cannot have forgotten that all of us, when we were baptized into Christ Jesus, were baptized into his death. So by our baptism into his death we were buried with him, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glorious power, we too should begin living a new life.”

I can’t begin to claim that I know what happens after death.  It is the great unknowing.  But I do sense that there is and yearn for a drawing together of all the loose threads of love and affection with which we have already been blessed—a completion of that great divine act of crucifixion, death, and resurrection— a circus of grace.

“Why look among the dead for someone who is alive?  He is not here; he has risen”  (Luke 24:5b).

Paul B. Dornan is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission,  from NYAPC's 2013 Lenten Meditations booklet.     

Photo: A woman praying during second day of Bread for the World's 2011 Gathering at American University in Washington, D.C. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl)


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