There is a great silence today. It is not the awesome silence of God, but the silence of death, the peace not yet of the Risen Christ, but the peace of the grave. No matter how much we love someone, there is a peace that comes when, after a long and agonizing death, they finally breathe their last – and are “at rest.” Those who have loved and cared for them also find rest, for there is no more to be done, and that which can be done for the body – well, there is no great rush.
We western Catholics miss out on a very deep mystery when we glide over Holy Saturday, as if it were only a time when the worst is over, and we can prepare for Easter festivities. There is a time to be fallow, a time to let things be. More: there is a time to share death. At a good wake – not a basically Stoic if raucous denial of death – we can sit silently and reverently in the face of this great mystery of a person, called to share in the life of God, a god-like being walking the earth, now apparently reduced to an object, a mute form gradually beginning to sink into formlessness.
The Eastern Church maintains a more ancient tradition, commemorating the “descent into hell” of the Lord, celebrating the “turn” by a liturgy at mid-morning, in which He begins to rise, imperceptibly to us, having reached the depths of death. And then there is the faintest beginning of what will be Easter light. But for now, for this special day, the tomb must be dark, the grave well dug, the death real death for all of our deaths to be redeemed, all the traps that are our graves sprung. For this we wait in patient hope, silently sitting in the dark.