by Linda Ryan
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
– W.H. Auden
Holy Saturday is one of those days when everything seems somewhat discombobulated in an odd way. After the forty days of Lent the end of the period of fasting, penitence and prayer are almost over, but not quite yet. The Altar Guild uses the morning to turn the church from stark and dark to brilliant with highly polished silver and brass and lots of flowers, and the scent of furniture polish faintly perfumes the air where the scent of the lilies have not yet reached. The place is a veritable beehive of activity, but then everyone goes home for the afternoon and the church waits, adorned like a bride for her wedding, awaiting the coming of the groom. Meanwhile the guests wait, doing their usual Saturday morning chores and running about, some of them still feeling the combined effect of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. It’s a day that seems to hold its breath, in a way. Like Auden put in his poem, it seems that “…nothing now can ever come to any good,” yet we know that good will come, just not yet.
I sense in Auden’s poem a feeling akin to the grief some of us experience when losing a friend or a loved one. It seems that the whole world should be mourning with us, a feeling that life has either stopped or is somehow wrapped in a fog, a wispy curtain that makes things blurry and unclear. How dare people laugh or go on as if there were nothing wrong? Can’t they see that things are very wrong and may never be put right again?
With Holy Saturday, however, we have a hint (or, perhaps, a solid knowledge) that come the evening and then the next day, all will be made right again because the death that seemed so tragic and final just a day or so before has been roundly vanquished when the resurrection is discovered. But throughout the day the joy and elation of Easter is still just out of reach, as if through that veil that clouds our eyes with grief.
The Greek Orthodox, while observing Holy Saturday and Easter at a different time, nonetheless have something profound to tell us:
Today a tomb holds Him who holds the creation
in the hollow of His hand;
a stone covers Him who covered the heavens with glory.
Life sleeps and hell trembles, and Adam is set free from his bonds.
Glory to Thy dispensation, whereby Thou hast accomplished all things,
granting us an eternal Sabbath,
Thy most holy Resurrection from the dead.
It is interesting how Auden and the Greek Orthodox hymnographer see Holy Saturday so differently. Auden sees it through the eyes of Good Friday’s grief while the hymnographer sees the reality of the grave that is the present but also to the future that is the promise of Easter. The balance between the two is what I believe is the crux of Holy Saturday. Even though every minute we live, breathe and move on this earth is the present moment between the past and the future, with Holy Saturday it is probably more apparent than most other times of the year. In the present we mourn the death of a man over 2000 years ago while we look for the future resurrection he has promised us through his own example.
I think today I will be more consciously aware of that point in time that is between times as I prepare to observe the yearly exuberance of Easter. While every moment is such a point between past and future, I think Holy Saturday’s moments are probably among the most important and the most identifiable, if I choose to look at it that way. Auden’s pessimistic “I thought that love would last forever” is, for me, swept away by the hymnographer’s “Thou hast accomplished all things, granting us an eternal Sabbath,” a promise that only love can fulfill, a promise that love has and will fulfill.
It’s that simple.