Coronavirus: An Unending Holy Saturday

Those of you who come from liturgical Christian traditions know about Holy Saturday.  It is the day between Good Friday and Easter.  On this day, the Church goes dark, as it were, as we await the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter.

As present-day Christians, we have the luxury of knowing how the story ends.  But Jesus’ disciples had no such knowledge.  When Jesus died on the cross–as far as they knew, it was over.  There was no movement to sustain.  There was no dream to keep alive.  It.  Was.  Over.

After Jesus was crucified, John and Peter and the other disciples disappeared into the city, found someplace to hunker down and wait.  It was a Sabbath, so they were required by law to wait.  But for what?  For the Sabbath to be over so they could complete the work of preparing Jesus’ body for burial, because they fully expected him to do exactly what every other dead person had done since the dawn of time:  Stay dead.  After that, for things to die down so they could slip quietly out of the city and go back home to their old way of life up in Galilee.

We don’t know the sort of conversations they had during that time.  But we can imagine.  They probably said things like “Well, that’s three years of our life that we’ll never get back.”  “You don’t crucify the Resurrection and the Life.  Clearly this guy was not who he said he was, not who we thought he was.”  “Just another wannabe messiah…what the fuck were we thinking?”

In this world of coronavirus, we wait.  Just like the disciples on that first Holy Saturday.  For what?  For it to be over.  For things to get back to normal.  For it to be safe to go back to where we were before–which for many people is not such a good place.

Over at Christian Century, Richard Lisher writes that the coronavirus pandemic has the feel of an unending Holy Saturday:

The Gospels say little about the disciples’ behavior on Holy Saturday. We can only imagine. It was a day of rest. They were required to rest. What preparations the women made must have been done furtively.

In the world of the coronavirus, we are also waiting. But waiting for what? When the women came to the tomb in the gray morning, they came not with high hopes but with their world’s version of embalming fluid. In Hebrew, the verbs “wait” and “hope” can be rendered by the same word. But in a time of contagion, our waiting does not appear to be en­riched by hope any more than theirs was.

Our waiting has an intransitive feel. “For what?” is hard to answer. For it to be over. For those who are sick to recover. For a magically resurrected economy. For school to start and the multiplex to open. For baseball. For a paycheck once again. Waiting to get back to where we were—which for many of us wasn’t a good place to begin with. The people who clean hotel rooms, who work at Macy’s or the shop down the block, whose husbands or wives have died and remain unburied, who live in prisons, who are hoping for a bed in the ICU—what are they waiting for?

But waiting, like hoping, demands an object. We are waiting for a solution to the inexplicable. We are waiting for deliverance from our vulnerability to nature, of course—and from death—but even more from our vulnerability to the self-interest, lying, hoarding, and venality that make the pandemic even worse. Which is to say, we want to be delivered from ourselves.


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