Saturday, 3 April 2010

Holy Week : Holy Saturday

There is something uncomfortable, disturbing almost, about Holy Saturday. There should be no sacraments, churches are closed, the quietness of the sepulchre. We are suspended in mid air, as it were, between Good Friday and Easter.
And yet it is an important day, because it speaks to us of the human condition itself. I was very enlightened on this by a talk given to my priests' group, the Fraternity, a few years ago by Archbishop Pat Kelly of Liverpool. He invited us to get inside the unease of this day, because it is the unease of human life itself. We are all indeed suspended between life here, with all its crosses, and the promise of eternal life - between the already and the not yet. While we will rejoice at the great Feast that starts tonight with our wonderful Easter Vigils, deep down in our hearts we know that we are not yet fully there. "Our hearts are restless until they rest in you" as St Augustine said.
The Apostles Creed talks to us of the "descent into hell", which is also associated with today. I remember thinking that this was a weird and scary idea, and pushed it to the back of my mind until I came across the wonderful Byzantine tradition where this doctrine has taken a central part in their Easter tradition, and is often shown in their icons and mosaics. A dynamic and virile Jesus tramples on Satan crushed under the Gates of Hell, while Adam and Eve and the other Waiting Righteous are pulled out of their ages-long imprisonment.
The version in the picture is one I saw in Istanbul at the Church of St Saviour in Chora that dates back to the fifth century. It is a fresco from the fourteenth century which was whitewashed over when the building was converted into a mosque two hundred years later. The fresco decorates the apse of the parekklesion, a side chapel that was probably used to house the bodies of the deceased before funerals. I love this vibrant evil-trampling, life-giving, hope-inspiring Jesus. He is the one we must proclaim this Easter!

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