The valley of the shadow of death: in honor of Holy Saturday

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me. [1]

A good topic for Holy Saturday. Indeed, the world today walks through the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus is dead; You are dead. You are in the tomb. You are not here. Even in our Churches, the tabernacles are open and empty. As callous as it seems to say it, we can take it if one of us dies. But we had pinned our hopes on You; we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel [Lk 24:21]. If this isn’t the “valley of the shadow of death,” I don’t know what it.

Even today, two millennia later, with knowledge of the end of the play, this is a rough day. We are left bereft. We’ve just been through the forty days of Lent, we’ve just been through Holy Thursday, we have just commemorated Good Friday, why the waiting, can’t we get on with it? Why wait a day? Couldn’t You have risen the next morning and saved us all this grief.

A number of reasons present themselves. And without real death, there can be no true resurrection. It seems that God wanted to make sure there was no doubt You were dead: You die on the cross, Your friends, followers and family see you die, the soldiers see that You are dead, but just to make sure, one of them lances Your heart, Pilate confirms that You are dead before he releases Your body, Joseph, Nicodemus and the women and John certainly see that You are dead and prepare Your body for burial, You are put in the tomb, the Chief Priests and Sanhedrin believe You are dead and seal the tomb and post a guard lest someone take Your body, and finally, You were dead three days, the criterion at that time for someone really to be dead. Thus, the preponderance of evidence point to the fact that You were truly and really dead.

Second, it is the Sabbath. And the Sabbath is a commemoration of the ending of Creation, not the beginning. All was complete. In a sense, You verified that not only was the Passover, new and old, but that your work on the new creation was complete; Your hour had come and Your task was complete and You needed to return to the Father. Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. [Lk 23:46] Even God rests on the Sabbath. So, in a sense, it is a validation that You are God, both in the resting and in the providential God-timing of Your resurrection.

According to our creed, today You “descended into Hell.” The Fathers interpreted this as going to gather all the Patriarchs, prophets, followers of God, the good people from ancient times and raise them from Sheol and bring them into the Heavenly Bliss. Perhaps at the same time, perhaps all the ancient souls were together and those who had not been good saw what was going on and wanted to go also…but could not…and that is what is meant by Hell, never able to enjoy the presence of Love, of Peace, of Truth, of God. That truly would be Hell.

So, what do You wish me to learn from today? Everything You do is motivated by Your Love of me, of us, so this, too, has a hidden surprise of Love, it is an “S” for us to find and be delighted. Not just a silver lining, but a golden egg to cherish and await its revelation.

Perhaps the most difficult but important gift is patience. Patience arising from trust, from faith, from hope, from complete and utter acceptance of Your Goodness and grace at all times. All these other gifts, in a sense, predate patience, but patience is the present manifestation, the present actualization, the present incarnation, embodiment of them all, holding them, relishing them, savoring them.

Patience, not an easy gift to master. Please grant me patience, not just today, but every day of my life, for it is the gateway to obedience, to acknowledging Your will, Your preeminence in my life, Your Way. Mary, pray for me that I may have the patience You exhibited in your pregnancy, in taking on the task at hand and leaving the rest, as dire and as bleak as it might seem initially, to God.

Thank You for the gift of Holy Saturday.

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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