I get so frustrated when people call this Easter Saturday. That’s a week away. This is Holy Saturday! Get it right!
In an ideal world, of course, it should be a day for peace and contemplation, for considering the harrowing of hell, coming to terms with the fact that Jesus died and was buried and that his friends had to leave the tomb with the job half done because the Sabbath was fast approaching. It should be the day for reflecting on how the eleven felt. They had been thirteen and within the space of a day two of their number had gone – Jesus, nailed to the tree, Judas hanging from a tree, one at the hands of others, one at his own hands. On Thursday night they were all together in this room and now there were two empty places around the table. I should have been thinking about all those things and they are rich themes to reflect on.
Most clergy and most people intimately involved in the business of church don’t have that luxury. Holy Saturday is often church spring clean day. Everything was stripped out at the end of the Eucharist on Maundy Thursday. Anything decorative and removable was put in the sacristy or the hall. Before it can be put back it has to be cleaned, polished, repaired. The church, if it normally smells of incense, suddenly smells of polish and Brasso and Silvo. Mots of dust can be seen in the shafts of light coming through the windows. Hassocks are beaten, carpets hoovered, the seldom cleaned places exposed by the stripping on Thursday need to be dealt with. At the same time ‘the flower ladies’ (but they may be men) are in and they want their space. They need to soak their Oasis, they need more space than the Vicar ever gives them to arrange all the lilies donated by people in memory of loved ones who died last year. The Sunday School are in setting up the Easter Garden – but they soon get bored and run around the churchyard and get under people’s feet and the Easter garden is left again to the head of Sunday School – setting out the Primulas around some rocks and hoping it looks a bit like the sepulchre.
It’s a full-on Saturday, yet even though it’s busy it has its own holiness. The harrowing of hell is mirrored in the harrowing of the vestry, and the victory over sin becomes a more prosaic victory over the dust ‘that clings so closely’.
Of course, as a Dean, I have an army of people to do all of that and I’m very grateful to them. But don’t worry, I have been doing my own preparations. Part of that was writing two sermons for tomorrow – one for the Dawn Vigil and one for the 9 o’clock. The truth is that I find it much easier to write a Good Friday sermon than one for Easter Day. As someone said to me ‘Being at the College of the Resurrection, it should be easy for you.’ But it isn’t. I always worry about what to say at Easter and I hope I have it right. But I also wonder why I find it such a challenge – maybe it’s because I feel that I experience in my life more of Good Friday than I do of Easter Day – or is it too honest to say that?
Then I too got hooked by spring cleaning. For some reason I decided to tackle the Utility Room which is in the cellar of the Deanery. It had become a bit of a dumping ground. So on with the Marigolds (goodness there’s a lot of product placement in this blog!) and out with the Flash and into rubbish bags went all the junk. I sorted out all the cleaning products – why I have I bought so many window cleaning sprays? why have I more bottles of Parozone than anyone could need? – and was able to stand back and see a job, reasonably well done. It was very fulfilling and maybe that’s why this is Holy Saturday because we make ready in such practical ways for Easter. The Old English poem, ‘The Descent into Hell’ concludes like this
The young warrior awoke,
dauntless from the dust, majesty arose,
victorious and wise.
Perhaps defeating the dust is where the holiness lies.
Now though, jobs done, sermon written, Easter wreath on the door, Easter tree decorated with wooden eggs in the hall, I can at last sit down and think about an early night. The clocks go forward and the Dawn Vigil it at 6.00am! But actually I’m now feeling a tinge of excitement!
Jesus, meet us in the dawn
as you met Mary
and fill us with that same
that changed her life.