Easter Vigil, Holy Saturday, Holy Week

Keeping vigil (Holy Saturday)

It’s a blank spot in the gospel, the night and day and night the women spent between seeing Jesus’ body carried off to the tomb and the morning when they went to grieve him or anoint him or just try to make themselves believe this terrible thing had actually happened. No matter which gospel you read, it’s some part of the Passover Festival, with all the requirements of a holiday, and Sabbath with its own special needs and requirements.

You’ve been there, haven’t you, going through the motions of a special day when grief or the unknown threaten to take your feet out from under you? The world has changed forever, but life continues with its rhythm of calendar and school year and family demands and church, and we keep showing up, trying to be present even in the middle of inner and outer disaster. We show up.

And what’s a vigil but showing up when you don’t quite feel like it? What’s a vigil but staying because you can’t figure out how to muster the emotional energy to leave?

The women didn’t head home to Bethany or Galilee or Magdala or anywhere else they might have found comfort or safety. They stuck there in Jerusalem, identifiable witnesses who stood at the cross. They stayed. I think of Susan and Lucy at the Stone Table, keeping vigil through the night with Aslan’s body, absolutely stricken and hopeless.

It’s hard to call that up about Jesus now, for the preacher or the church-goer, even for the faithful attender of every service in Holy Week. We know what’s coming. We know that the Altar Guild or the Flower Committee is over at church today pulling stamens out of the lilies for the sake of the allergic preacher, or arranging the daffodils and hydrangeas, making the sanctuary ready for tomorrow’s inevitable celebrations. Trumpeters practice the big Easter hymns – maybe looking at them for the first time since last year, a little casual about what is to come.

In the church garden
In the church garden

But the women. The women. They did not know, they had no idea, even if they had heard him say the things he hinted to the disciples about three days and rising. We grow complacent. We know those bulbs are coming up again, that we can buy baby chicks at the farm store, or a bunny at the pet store. We know what is coming tomorrow at church. We know.

What we don’t always know is when the darkness of our own lives will lift, when the grief will become remotely manageable, when we will find a new way where the old one is entirely blocked or irretrievably broken. What we don’t always know is when or whether the stone closing our tomb will be rolled away.

Who sits vigil with us?

The one who laid in that tomb, the one who knows the darkness of rejection, of apparent failure, of abandonment – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He cried these words on the edge of death; he even knows death.

He’ll sit there with us, Jesus will, as long as it takes. He’ll sit there as long as it takes. I promise you this. He’s keeping vigil right now with people who have no expectation that the sun will come up again and shine on a world full of flowers and Easter eggs and new hats and suits and dresses and magnificent hymns and inspiring sermons.

He’s keeping vigil with us.