In The Grave: Why Holy Saturday Matters

There’s probably no day in history which rings truer. No other day when the sheer emptiness and banality of existence declares itself present, triumphant, bare and in-your-face. If you crave the authentic, Holy Saturday is it. After such authenticity, you’d never want for any other.

Good Friday? Everybody knows. And thanks to Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ (Icon, 2004), everybody knows too much. The appropriate solemnity and black clothes comes into play. By expecting something tragic, unfortunately, you already domesticate it.

Easter Sunday? Well, it’s the gala Resurrection Day which─like most big days─is celebrated for its own sake minus comprehension of what it’s about. Go ahead, ask some of your Christian friends what Easter day ‘means’. Chances are many will say that the Resurrection ‘proves that Jesus is God’ or something dodgy like that (see Note 1). Furthermore, there’s a good chance everybody’ll be distracted by the Easter eggs and curry chicken.

But Holy Saturday? Now this one, for now, remains within pure and privileged obscurity. Most Christians have barely heard of the day. It’s not rocket science but Saturday is, uh, between Friday and Sunday. Mind blown, right? No, seriously. It’s the day between the greatest tragedy in Christian theological story and the greatest triumph to date.

More poignantly, it’s the day after the death of Jesus, during which there is simply no anticipation or hope of anything else ‘happening’. Friday happened, which proved that Jesus was simply one of many Jewish pretend-Messiahs who got his career cut short. Crucially, nobody (at the time, anyway) was aware that something tremendous would occur on Sunday. There was simply the coldness of the tomb, the gloom of annihilated hope, the shadow of a hopeless now. Nothing else.

And therein lies its strange value.

We have nothing to give — deal with it

You know how they say you can never appreciate wealth until you’ve faced poverty? Or how you will never truly value your marriage until you’ve contemplated divorce? And wasn’t it Gandhi who said you should live as if you were to die tomorrow, the point being (maybe) that unless you’ve encountered your mortality in all its bad-ass totality, you haven’t really lived?

In this context, Holy Saturday fits like a glove. The day exists for you if you’ve lost all reason to live. It reminds you there’s no need to pretend things will be ‘okay’. Against all the success porn, all the ‘You Can You Can You Can’ bullshit out there, Holy Saturday proclaims there’s only pain and nothingness. It’s a void, it’s empty, it’s an abyss, it’s over.

Holy Saturday is when you’ve put all your hope in someone and the person has─without remorse─deliberately and completely let you down. It’s when you’ve worked your butt off to win that project, but a corporate rival ‘knew somebody’ and thus, in a snap, you’re told No Thank You, There’s The Door. It’s when the person you love has lost his mind and sees you as an alien, when the wife whom you’d give your life for becomes an utterly different person, or that husband you care about acts on his second thoughts about you.

It’s when your children don’t want you anymore because of what you’ve done. It’s when you’ve messed up and no amount of Sorrys’ are going to change anything. It’s when you’ve set off a landmine with eyes wide open, stabbed people in the heart, and everything no longer has any point.

It’s when you realise, for sure and without further illusion, that your dreams are finally done. It’s rock-bottom without any pretense of rising back up. There is simply no hope and entertaining any is a sham.

Holy Saturday is exactly this kind of space, carved out from your anguish and sorrow, which says Yes life sucks and it sucks bad. No Tony Robbins, no 4-Michelin-Star restaurant, no Hollywood blockbuster, no click-bait social media vid, no fitness regime, no Booker-Prize winning novel, no Jamie Oliver program, no last-minute goal, no close friends, nada, zilch, tak de, mei you, elek ZEE-bleedin’-RO — nothing is going to make a difference as far as your pain is concerned.

In a word, Holy Saturday is a full-stop. It declares that unless you stop, no more movement (let alone progress) will be forthcoming. Unless you halt and let the absolute futility of death and evil sink in, stepping forward is a farce.

A cancer survivor may only know real gratitude by being fully informed of the Stage 4 chasm she escaped from.

Likewise, Holy Saturday is a strong hard look at the darkness of the world, the blackness of the human heart — and the havoc it wreaks. This day matters because, perhaps, unless we stare into the core of the world’s wickedness and grasp the magnitude of the torment we─as a global collective─are responsible for, we can never experience real goodness.

But what happened?

Christian theology presents this day as the day after perfect love was broken, the day after the mystery of an eternal unity was split, for the sake of a cosmic rescue mission. Holy Saturday suggests that an all-loving Creator, dwelling in eternity, consolidated the trauma of suffering and death into his eternal being. If Friday was the day the virus of the world was captured, Saturday was when the virus was fully ‘installed’ into the divine system in order that it be utterly destroyed.

One should easily remember that climactic scene in Matrix: Revolutions (Warner Bros, 2003) when ‘The One’ Neo, leaving his beloved Trinity behind, went to Machine City to deliver himself to the machines and save Zion and all the remaining humans. How did he accomplish this? What exactly ‘happened’?

He did this by fighting with Agent Smith, that virus which has infected even the Matrix itself. However, what may have been easily missed is the fact that once Neo gave himself up, Smith had already lost. Because the only positive scenario for Smith was to kill and assimilate Neo, but Smith failed to realise that such an action is precisely what allows the machines to destroy Smith i.e. by killing Neo (who, if you recall, was jacked in to them).

Translating this into the Biblical narrative, one could say that Good Friday was when the battle happened─when Neo ‘gave himself for us’─and Holy Saturday is the aftermath of the battle already won but not yet experienced as won. Realisation and celebrations only come 24 hours later.

For now, it’s still a loss. It’s still the oblivion of every moment of loss. Let it sink in. Deal with it. Go into the grave and stay there.

Then tomorrow, maybe, things begin anew.

Note 1: Not an ideal answer and it’s, in fact, somewhat misleading. But that discussion for another day.

Edu-trainer, Žižek studies, amateur theologian, columnist.