Today a great silence reigns on earth, a great silence and a great stillness. A great silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. . . . He has gone to search for Adam, our first father, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow Adam in his bonds and Eve, captive with him—He who is both their God and the son of Eve. . . . “I am your God, who for your sake have become your son . . . I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.”
– from a Holy Saturday homily
Second Century AD
I love the introductory text from this quote: “today a great silence reigns on earth.”
Yesterday, Good Friday, we remembered the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. We remembered his false condemnation. We remembered his suffering on the cross—a sadistic Roman torture device designed to inflict the maximum pain and humiliation possible. We remembered his prayer for the forgiveness of those who were putting him to death. We remembered his mother, Mary, looking on as her son suffered, being commended by Christ to the care of St. John the Apostle (of note, the only one of the twelve Apostles not to die a violent death) and to becoming the spiritual mother of all the faithful. We remembered him giving up his spirit and dying, to be interned in-haste in a pauper’s tomb before the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath. We remembered that, in Christ’s death, all of our sins—no matter how awful they may be—can be forgiven. It is a day of expectant sorrow.
Tomorrow, Easter Sunday, we will remember Christ’s triumphant resurrection from the dead. We will remember the women discovering the empty tomb. We will remember Christ appearing to his Apostles, so unexpectedly that at-first they do not even recognize him. We will remember that, through Christ’s triumph, we all now have the opportunity to receive the gifts of resurrection and eternal life. It is a day of joyful celebration.
But today? Today is quiet. The King is asleep. Christ descended to the dead, to free the worthy souls that had gone before and triumph over death and evil, but none of that was happening here on Earth. The action moved from the natural to the supernatural, from life to the afterlife. On Earth, the Apostles waited in silence, expecting the triumphant resurrection but somehow not really sure if it was going to happen. This is a striking parallel with our daily lives today: We hold out hope but, like the Apostles themselves, our faith is weak. The final triumph is still somehow unexpected; it still lies beyond our comprehension.
Today, we remember our position in the story of man’s salvation. The deed is done; good has triumphed over evil in the death and suffering of Christ. But we are still here on Earth, suffering, sinning, and disbelieving. We are unsure of what we have seen, or what will happen next, and we doubt the truth of what we have been told. We live somewhere between Good Friday and Easter, somewhere between the earning of our salvation on the cross and our receipt of its spoils. Today, we contemplate what we have seen, and fall woefully short in our human frailty of properly understanding it, or even believing it. In the middle of an epic story of miraculous, supernatural events, today is quiet . . . because today we look inward, at ourselves.