Saturday, April 19, 2014

Holy Saturday: Rumors From a Distant Front

The lamp is dark.
Today the lampada would not stay lit. We keep it burning always. Today it would not stay lit because the Light of the World lies in His tomb.

Holy Saturday is the day unlike any other. After the heart wrenching cosmic-human drama of Good Friday, the strange pedal controversies of Holy Thursday, the poignancy of Judas' betrayal on Spy Wednesday, the ephemeral triumph of Palm Sunday, and all the Lenten days of fervor and forgetfulness preceding, Holy Saturday is the hollow day. A hush has fallen over creation for God is dead.

He suffered, died and was buried. Full stop. End of story. No one, except perhaps His sweet, suffering mother dared to hope for more. The faithful and practical women would lay their grief aside like knitting to discuss embalming Jesus' body, then, the awful fact would kick them in the stomach, and they would take up their grief again.

He suffered, died and was buried. This is where the story ends for the world. The Church leaves us alone with our thoughts today. Holy Saturday used to see the longest evening service in the Church. It lasted from sundown Saturday to sunrise Easter Sunday. It was entirely oriented to the coming baptism of the Catechumens. Nowadays, we sit like Job's friends at their best, at the beginning of the story, when they were silent before the enormity of death. Or, more likely, we're busy making last-minute plans for Easter.

He descended into Hell. Not to suffer its pains, as some popular television preachers like Joyce Meyer and Kenneth Copeland (remember him and "Bishop" Tony Palmer?) imagine, but to assert His sovereignty and lead from the limbus patrum our parents Adam and Eve and all the righteous dead. "The greatest smash-and-grab ever," as my son put it today.

In this life, we see Holy Saturday from the outside. The occupied tomb. There are parts of God's grand story that do not directly involve us, and the inner events of Holy Saturday come to us as rumors from a distant front.

But they are rumors of victory!

Christ in Limbo (detail) by Agnolo Bronzino, Santa Croce Church, Florence (1552)
Condemned for "lewdness," it incorporates the likenesses of many Florentine notables.

In this detail from the same painting, hideous demons
watch helplessly from above; Bronzini's anatomical realism
makes them all the more disturbing.

And even better, Fra Angelico's real "smash-and-grab" complete with a Devil flattened beneath the door like Wile E. Coyote! Much more spiritual and simpler in style, it modestly gets the job done without covering the surface with skin.

Christ in Limbo by Blessed Fra Angelico (c. 1450)
Fresco in Convento San Marco, Florence, Cell 31

Jesus has violently kicked in the door of Hell, humorously flattening a demon who sought to bar it, and sending others scurrying for the shadows. 

Meanwhile Abraham, the father of all who have faith, leads the long line of prisoners from the caverns below. If they do not look happy about their rescue, perhaps it is because they are in worshipful awe of Jesus, or can't quite believe their good fortune after thousands of years. They are clearly determined to get out.

These wonderful meditative tools were in the humble cells of the Dominican friars. Can you imagine having a fresco by Blessed Fra Angelico in your own bedroom to contemplate? 


  1. Beautifully expressed. Thank you.

  2. I would offer a different view of whom Christ reaches for all of the "Resurrection of the Just" Icons I've ever seen, He seeks for His first-born first...Adam.

    A blessed and joyous Easter to the bear. Christos Anesti! Alethos Anesti!!!

  3. Nice to see you again , Susan! We wondered where our badger had wondered off to. I agree, but where Adam is, one usually finds Eve. I imagined the next couple back, wearing ruder garments to be Adam and Eve. Happy Easter to you, Susan. It has already grenched me in peace.

  4. Hi Bear! I didn't go anywhere...just snuffling under the leaves :)

    I would maybe suggest that the rumpled looking guy in the white is St. John the Baptist (always in the Resurrection of the Just Icons, and always a little 'wooly' looking with dark hair...about Christ's age)...Adam is always shown as very old with a white beard, while Eve is shown considerably younger (the visible woman beside St. John the Baptist is most probably her (right behind Adam; with Adam being, again, the first one Christ is always shown seeking out...His first-born). There's always one other haloed woman in crowd who has relation to (St.) David (I would assume it to be Bathsheba as she is in Christ's lineage)...they are both crowned. They don't show up here because the perspective of this picture is so limited and one sided...the Icon would usually show two sides of people streaming out of two caves (one on either side of Christ).

    see?...they don't call me the badger for nothin' :):):)

    Thanks for your truly lovely site...I very much enjoy reading here...something very special going on in this forest. God bless you abundantly, and also your very fine readers and commenters, and a continuing Blessed Easter to all...He is risen indeed!!! :)


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