The most in-between day of the Christian liturgical year is Holy Saturday, sandwiched as it is between the stories of crucifixion on Good Friday and resurrection on Easter morning. This is the day in which Jesus lays in state in a borrowed tomb with borrowed time. All those around him are stunned with grief and mired in confusion. They wait, but for what?
The way present-day Christians view Holy Saturday provides a clue as to the meaning of its place in the larger story: We don’t know what to do with it. Other than dying the Easter eggs or shopping for Easter dinner, what does one do between snuffing out the last Tenebrae candle and singing Christ the Lord is Risen Today?
There is a liturgy of Holy Saturday, of course, and catechumens preparing for baptism have held vigil with it throughout the centuries. Some of our earliest records tell of baptismal preparation, how following the night’s vigil, baptismal candidates rose early Easter morning, donned white robes and waded into the water of life. Holy Saturday was something, not just biding time.
But for the disciples contemporary with Jesus it was most surely a grief-stricken and disorienting time in which nothing made any sense. We, on the other hand, do not experience that terror and shattering sadness, and are generally baffled with the extra time on our hands; what to do between this and that?
On the deepest symbolic and mythic level, however, the locale of tomb is absolutely necessary to the story of transformation. Passage must be made from one state of being to another. A womb is required. A tunnel between here and there. A holding chamber, chrysalis, or container. The seed pod underground: The tomb is not only for the disposal of a body; it is a birth canal.
The tomb is the liminal space that prepares for the next thing. As physicists have reminded us, space is not empty. Something is happening.
Whether we view Holy Saturday as a necessary in-between pause in the narrative or the in-between space necessary for every transformation, this most ambiguous of days in the Christian calendar, this overlooked and fumbled time, remains the deepest and most silent. It holds such bright sadness. And like the prayers unladen with words and explanations, the prayers alive with waiting and watching, the tomb of Holy Saturday remains an eternal clue for the spiritual transformation of every person who dares to die in order to be born.