By Brian Niemiec
One of my earliest memories of Holy Saturday was asking my father why Grandpop only ate bread and water on the Saturday before Easter. I don’t even remember my dad’s response, but every year my Grandpop would eat only a little bread and water as he waited for Easter morning. I used to think that his practice was a continuation of the fasting and repentance that the Church practices on Good Friday. Yet this simple meal for a humble and loving man speaks less to fasting, and more to the true nature of Holy Saturday.
Each Gospel account to a greater or lesser extent portrays the Apostles in a less than flattering light. Throughout the ministry of Jesus we come to understand that at many times these twelve men were not the sharpest knives on the first century Palestine cutting block. A particularly challenging concept for them was the Resurrection. Jesus told them that the Son of God must be killed, and on the third day he will rise. He tried parables. He tried stories. He tried allegory. He tried the direct approach, and yet the Apostles were at a loss.
Due to their lack of comprehension (and faith?), the Apostles fled in fear during and after the crucifixion. Even Peter, the rock of the future Church, denies Jesus and lurks in the shadows; not daring to get too close. The first Holy Saturday was not a happy occasion. The followers of Jesus hid behind a locked door, and worried if they too would be sentenced to death. It was only after Jesus’ resurrection, when he appeared in the midst of the disciples, did the true joy and meaning of the last few days make sense.
Unlike the Apostles, we know what happens on Easter Sunday. We have read about the empty tomb, and the realization of the promise of everlasting life. What, then, is the point of Holy Saturday? Well, think about moments of great love in your life: reuniting with your family after a long time away, the birth of a son or daughter, or the day of your wedding. What were you feeling in the time immediately before those incredibly happy moments? There was probably a little fear, but I would hope there was also expectation, excitement, and some butterflies.
In a similar way, Holy Saturday is a time of expectation. This day, with the tomb full, is the great pause before the magnificent feast of Easter. Easter day we celebrate the promise of the eternal banquet made possible for us through Jesus Christ, and at that time we will be made perfect. We will be fully ourselves, and perfectly one with God. If on Easter Sunday we celebrate this great promise, than Holy Saturday is the day of preparation and expectation. Holy Saturday isn’t sorrowful, it is incredibly hopeful.
Thinking back on my grandfather, I’d like to think that he already knew this. As any good Polish Catholic family would, Saturday morning he and my grandmother took the Easter food to the church to be blessed, and spent the rest of the day cleaning and preparing for the celebration to come. I think that Grandpop only ate bread and water because he was waiting for and expecting Easter Sunday and the banquet to come. He waited in hope for the joy of the empty tomb. As Christians, this is our continuous task, to prepare and wait in hope for the time when God is all in all.
I wish you all a very prayerful and expectant Holy Saturday, and a blessedly joyous Easter Sunday!