Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday, I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Holy Death Saturday

Last Saturday I was online with sixty or so grieving friends who live around the world and I realized that this day is where grieving people live. Grievers are Saturday people, my friend Megan says.

For people who have recently lost a spouse, a child, or a parent, they exist in this nether world between death and life for a year, unable to let go of one and unable to embrace the other. And if they are Christians, they may not even be able to feel the joy of Easter Sunday this year.

Leading up to Easter Sunday, one of the things that Christians like to do is recreate the events of holy week so that they can experience those events as if they had been there. This is an old tradition and it holds a lot of wisdom, because if we can imagine ourselves “there” in each of the events, then they become real to us. We can feel them. People in the Jewish tradition do the same for Passover with the Seder meal, and I’ll speak more about that in a moment.
I grew up in the Christian Church, but I don’t recall us doing anything on Holy Saturday. Earlier in the week there was the triumphal procession into Jerusalem, the last supper and the foot washing on Thursday, the path of the cross and the death on Friday, and on Sunday will come the great and unexpected joy of the resurrection. But Saturday? Saturday was a day of waiting, a day of preparing, cleaning, and shopping so that we would be ready for the celebration and meal on Sunday.

For Christians today, it’s hard to suspend knowledge of the resurrection and dwell in the despair of death of Saturday. We may feel sad, but nothing like the grief of the followers back then who were in shock and despair, who felt that the dream that had charged their lives with excitement for three years was suddenly over. And if we don’t really feel the depths of grief, are we able to feel the high of the joy that follows?

I don’t blame people. Unless you have experienced grief, you really can’t imagine yourself into this place, no matter how hard you try. So Saturday is simply a day of waiting for Sunday to arrive.

What if we did something different on Saturday? 

What if we acted like we were grieving and wore black clothes, and put black wreaths on our doors to let people know we were grieving, like they did a century ago when a family member died. What if we wore ashes on our foreheads again? There is probably some forgotten tradition for doing this. It would be ritual.

Rituals have a power within them to transform the mundane surface of reality into something that we can experience on different levels.

Here’s an even more radical thought. If we have not experienced grief, then why don’t we spend a few hours next year on Saturday and listen to someone who is grieving so that we do understand? Then we will appreciate more the good news that comes on Sunday.

This year, the Jewish Passover also fell on Holy Saturday. This celebration remembers when the Spirit passed over the houses that had the sign of blood on their doorposts and killed the firstborn of the rest, and when the Israelites quickly had to leave their homes, the only place they had known, to go live in the desert. In the Seder meal, it is tradition to leave an empty place for one who has died. In this case, Elijah. But for those who lost a family member this year, that empty place also stands for them.

On the Buddhist calendar, Saturday was the New Year in the Therevadin tradition. On the Hindu calendar, it was the last day of the nine-day Rama Navami celebration celebrating the birth of Ram.

On nature’s calendar, the Spring Equinox a few weeks ago marked the death of winter and the birth of spring. Here the Greeks celebrated the mythology of Persephone. That turning of the earth is encouraging plants rise from the soil. On Saturday, the yellow blossoms on the forsythia in my backyard began to emerge.

New year, new life, new hope. No matter what religious tradition you follow, or if you follow nature’s calendar more closely, all around us are images of death, grief, rebirth, new life, and renewal. 

Where did you connect to Saturday this year?


  1. I have recently become a widow and discovered another link between Holy Saturday and grief, which I just wrote a blog post about tonight. In the Orthodox tradition we do dress in black for all the services of Holy Friday, but on the next day we think about how Christ is busy delivering souls from Hell, so it's the beginning of our Easter celebration. (And this year our remembrance of the Resurrection is a week later than the western churches.)

    I'm looking forward to browsing here some more now that this topic has become is my intense experience. Thank you for writing.

    1. Gretchen, I'm sorry about your loss. Easter must have been hard, feeling the close presence of death and separation from one you loved. Thank you for sharing this! I love hearing about the traditions of other religious communities.

  2. Gretchen, thank you for sharing this! I love hearing about the traditions of other religious communities.