Saturday, April 3, 2010

Holy Saturday

When Jesus was convicted
That tree of torture rose
To threaten all who loved him,
To reassure his foes.

Disciples feared the outcome
And left their friend alone,
Deserted by his followers,
Entombed behind a stone.

Three days they stayed in silence,
Denial, and despair;
The cross's shadow o'er them
Prevented even prayer.

Christ's rising in the morning
Went unobserved by all;
No witness to the glory,
But Mary heard his call.

She told the joyful story
To those who hid in fear;
Some said it could not happen,
And some refused to hear.

Then Jesus stood among them,
Their grieving hearts were thrilled;
Though many there had doubted,
His promise was fulfilled.

Though we, in bleakest hours,
May fear, and doubt our way,
This resurrection promise
Upholds us every day.

C.W.S., 2010
Melchior Vulpius, 1609
Text © 2010

Today is often a somber day in the church calendar, suspended between the Good Friday story of crucifixion and the joy we know that comes tomorrow on Easter. This time between is part of the story too, but the Gospels say almost nothing about it. We read that only one of the disciples remained with Jesus during his execution (only Luke says that the others “stood at a distance, watching”) and later, that they had hidden in fear for their own lives. Next week, Thomas gets held up as the bad example who didn't believe in the resurrection without seeing Jesus for himself, but in fact, none of them believed Mary Magdalene when she told them what she had seen. The time between Jesus' death and the joy and relief at his return must have been both grim and dispiriting for his friends.

There are hymns that deal with this in-between time (see below) but it seems to me that they are considered a bit old-fashioned in some circles. The liturgy of the Great Vigil of Easter has been gaining in popularity for this Saturday, and there is usually no place for these hymns there. That service goes back to the creation story, proceeding through the Old Testament stories of God's covenants, leading to the renewal of baptismal vows and jumping directly to the proclamation of Easter.

Being a bit old-fashioned myself, I think this time is still an important part of the story. Something struck me during the performance of the Passion story on Palm Sunday and the second stanza above came almost immediately.

The tune name CHRISTUS, DER IST MEIN LEBEN (Christ, you are my life) is certainly suited to these words as well as the tune itself, but I didn't write the text with it in mind. The German composer Melchior Vulpius is better known for a tune that will be sung in many churches tomorrow: GELOBT SEI GOTT. I've mentioned before my research into hymn tunes by women composers and there is one that would also work here called BESIDE THE CROSS, which first appeared in Hymns for the Children of the Church (1907) and probably nowhere else, credited only to a “Mrs. Strickland.” No sound file for us to hear, unfortunately.

The in-between time is nearly over. We know what happens next in the story -- come back tomorrow for the return of the word that hasn't been spoken for the last six weeks.

One Year Ago: Holy Saturday

Two Years Ago: Easter Eve


June Butler said...

Excellent post, C.W.S. I agree that we need the in-between time. We don't do the Easter vigil in my church. I've always preferred the Easter Day service, which can seem somewhat like an afterthought when the Easter vigil is highlighted.

C.W.S. said...

Merci, Grandmère.

I doubt that anything will come of my desire for a true Holy Saturday service; the Vigil is another big sing for us choir members in addition to two services tomorrow morning. Should be asleep right now but a little too wired.

Dorothy said...

A beautiful hymn, C.W.S. I'm so glad it came to you...and that you shared it with us.

C.W.S. said...

Thanks, Dorothy. It only took 20 years between my first hymn and my second here, so inspiration can come at any time I guess.

June Butler said...

CWS, duh! I did not realize the hymn was yours. I should have, of course. It's lovely.