Growing up as a child, I experienced Christmas as a season of wonder, with lights and decorations, gatherings and festivities, celebratory meals and (if I was good), some pressies in a sack at the end of the bed and under the tree. If the weather worked well, as it seemed to more often in my childhood, snow sometimes fell at Christmas!
Just as Christmas started ahead of the big day, so too with Easter, beginning on Palm Sunday, then culminating the following Easter weekend with fun painting hard-boiled eggs, the wide-eyed delight of chocolate Easter Eggs, family gatherings and on Easter Monday, a trip out to the country for a picnic, often to Limpsfield Common. My childhood perspective was ‘what’s not to love about Christmas and Easter’!
But as a child I had an edited view, with some of the tough and tragic elements of each season edited out.
I cannot remember a nativity play that included the story of the flight of the holy family to Egypt. Instead, they generally ended with a gathering of wise men and shepherds around the crib, complete with a smiling Mary and Joseph, and Jesus gently sleeping. The what happened next, including the journey taken to escape the tyrant Herod’s sword, was never mentioned. Nor do I have a great memory of the events of Holy Week, the cleansing of the Temple in anger, the Last Supper, the betrayal and desertion of Jesus, his long night of agony in Gethsemane, his gruesome humiliation and whipping before being led out to die in agony on the cross, though they did all get a kind of sanitised name-check. By and large my church experience as a child was of moving from one Sunday waving palm branches with cries of ‘Hosanna’ to the next Sunday greeting the world with loud Hallelujahs.
As the years turned, I’ve come to value the journey through what is termed Holy Week, the days between Palm Sunday and Easter Day, more and more. For in journeying through the week, we may journey with God in Christ through the muck and mire, heartache, and horrors that people may experience. It is a journey that gives a perspective to that age-old question of faith, ‘how can you believe in God when he seems to allow dreadful things to happen?’ The perspective being that God knows, for God has been there before us, and experienced unmerited suffering, including the worst of human inhumanity to human.
But, if I’m honest, I haven’t engaged much with Holy Saturday, that day twixt Good Friday and Easter Day. But this year I’ve gained a new perspective, that has spoken out of the world’s current travail. For since last year, it has so often felt as if we’ve been plunged into a Good Friday type existence, with relentless daily updates on Covid-related illness and deaths, which has gradually given way to something closer to Holy Saturday. A day of somewhat emptiness, lamenting all that has been lost, whilst looking forward in hope and expectation, to new life, the timing of which seems still feels distant and unknown.
So, this year, I’ve found a first insight into Holy Saturday, of lament, patience and hope, remembering that it was on Holy Saturday, when in the silence, stillness and darkness of the sealed tomb, transformation happened. A transformation that led to the risen Christ emerging ahead of Easter dawn, still bearing the wounds of the cross, yet witnessing to the wonder of new life. For now, our hallelujahs may feel on pause, but in time, our hearts will sing again, for there is nothing that the love of God can’t ultimately overcome.
For now, take care, keep safe, God bless,
P.s. This year Churches Together in West Wickham are organising a daily reflection which will be broadcast via Youtube, to help us journey through Holy Week, starting on Palm Sunday and concluding on Easter Day – details are on page 19 in the magazine.