On Part 4 of our five part blog series on “Holy Week with Kids,” we take on the experience of the Tomb and the Tether of love.
Ladislaus Boros writes, “The best love stories end in death, and this is no accident. Love is, of course, and remains the triumph over death, but that is not because it abolishes death but because it is itself death. Only in death can we be exposed completely and without reserve.”
It is with these words that we observe the emptiness of Holy Saturday….toward the emptiness, the liminal, the in-between. Toward what love reveals in the darkest hour, for it is there that new life is sown…sown in our tears, our confusions, even anger. Saturday represents the fullness of grief, of darkness, of not seeing a happy or hopeful ending. Saturday represents the emptiness of contemplation: of surrendering even without seeing a clear outcome, of letting go completely to “what was” even before glimpsing“what could be”. On Saturday we imagine the descent into darkness, we turn toward the aching carving out of death and the anguish of being “betwixt” and between.
I have always loved the candlelight services for the liturgy of Holy Saturday, but they always felt lacking in the personal connection. Yes, the “light shall overcome darkness” and all…but, just because we know what happens next doesn’t mean the disciples did. I also somewhat felt that the metaphor of the light in the darkness might not be more impactful if it the candles were lit to start, and then blown out in order to sit in the darkness together afterward. For these reasons, the actual fear, doubt, and suffering of liminality never fully comes through for me in the traditional Saturday night service. Over the years I wondered…
Shouldn’t we be orienting toward acclimating to and even expecting periods of our lives when we won’t be able to see, when we will be in a tomb-womb…uncertain, afraid, and troubled? Isn’t there another story being played out over the long dark nights of waiting, wondering, and anguish? A very personal example of kenotic love playing itself out even in the midst of profound grief and not-knowing?
Cynthia Bourgeault says there is indeed another way to consider the period between the crucifixion and the resurrection, and it’s central witness is Mary Magdalene. Mary’s presence at the tomb is not just one of a grief-stricken disciple, but the presence of an unbreakable tether of love that is stronger than death.
Once again, let’s turn to how Cynthia Bourgeault describes this moment, this time from her book The Meaning of Mary Magdalene:
…it is love that remains there for those entire three days…holding his tethers like falcon and falconer and he descends into the underworld. The sheer tenacity of her presence is not the result of ordinary human courage or even the detached equanimity of one who has attained to his level of mastery. It is an act of substituted love, as instant by instant she gives herself that he might be well. For those three days she holds in her own heart all that death has left unresolved in him….She take his anguish into her own heart, so that he might travel freely to accomplish the cosmic task he has been given to do.
This image, of a tether of love between realms, has really stayed with me over the years. It is an image that has become as real to me as the death of my own grandparents and ongoing felt-connection to them, and my heart-link to my kids when they’re with their dad. In our individualistic society with our false notions of separateness, talking about tethers that are stronger than death defy our rational minds. But have we not each felt that tether to “the other side” with a loved one? Felt the connection to people we never knew, long-passed, who suddenly seem to “show up” or be present in some ineffable intangible way in our lives…guiding us for a time, particularly in difficult times?
Most native traditions and the rich expressions birthed from the African diaspora center the presence of ancestors and guides…presences who are “linked” or tethered to us always, but especially during times of transition or great hardship. Sadly, the white-dominant obsession with rationalism and empiricism in the west has left those of us subject to that worldview largely blind to these “imaginal realms” as Cynthia describes them. Realms which, by the way, in our Christian tradition full of angels, dreams and visions being were once common place and assumed.
It’s with this context that I turn to the rituals for Holy Saturday, in which we explore both the difficulty of not knowing, not seeing, of being in the tomb…being empty, yes. And also, all the ways in which love tethers to us during those times of painful transition, reminding us that we have help, and that we’re not in this dark passage of death alone.
Holy Saturday: The Tomb and the Tether of Love
To open, I sing this chant I composed adapted from Rilke’s beautiful Sonnets to Orpheus IV as our invocation:
Then, we continue by reading Matthew 27:55–61:
Many women were there, watching from a distance, the same women who had followed Jesus from Galilee and looked after him. Among them were Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.
When it was evening, there came a rich man of Arimathea, called Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate thereupon ordered it to be handed over. So, Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean shroud, and put it in his own new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a large stone across the entrance of the tomb and went away. Now Mary of Magdala and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
I ask the kids to describe for me how they think the disciples might have been feeling, and then ask them to think about a time when they were very sad, or scared, or uncertain.
We talk about how death is a part of life, how many times in our lives we go through periods of fear, doubt, uncertainty. The disciples didn’t know what was going to happen and were very sad and very afraid. We don’t like feeling that way, so we often run and hide like most of the disciples did…we turn our faces away from those uncomfortable feelings.
But Mary Magdalene didn’t run: she stayed with Jesus, she stayed at the tomb, and she shows us that having the courage to face our grief is part of what leads to new life…and that if we skip the hard stuff, we might miss the gift that new life will bring us.
In a way, during those hard times, we join Jesus in the descent into darkness…and Mary shows us that even when we are going down into our grief or difficult feelings, there’s always a tether of love holding us.
I ask one of the kids or their dad to stay behind and hold one end of a long string, tying the other end to each of our wrists. Then, while Soren reads John 8:12: “I am the light of the world;anyone who follows me will not be walking in the darkbut will have the light of life, ” I light a candle.
With our lit candle and our end of the string, we begin our descent into darkness (our basement) singing, “Fall fearless into love” (Chant by Darlene Franz that we sung for Friday’s rituals).
Once settled in the basement we sit down with our candle and read Psalm 139:7-12
Where can I go from your spirit?
Where could I flee from your presence?
If I climb the heavens, you are there.
If I go down to the depths, you are there.
If I flew to the point of sunrise,
or westward across the sea,
your hand would still be guiding me,
your right hand holding me.
If I asked darkness to cover me,
and light to become night around me,
that darkness would not be dark to you,
for darkness is as light to you.
Then I blow out the candle.
It’s funny how unaccustomed to sitting in total darkness we actually are in the West, and its no surprise that the kids first found it equal parts thrilling and disconcerting. Now that we’ve done this ritual a few years in a row they will be less freaked out by it, but part of the gift of that is to sit closely together, sing a chant, or just hold hands. We sit like this in the dark for 10 full minutes (which for them is an eternity.)
Huddled together in the dark, we tug on our string and can feel a tug back: an illustration that even when we are totally “in the belly of the whale” and can’t see where we are going…that we will always have the tether of Love, the presence of someone willing us onward with their faith, prayer and love…even if we can’t see them.
You can also have the kids/partner take turns with who is the Love-tether so that everyone gets a chance to feel what its like to be in the darkness, and what it feels to be someone who is tethering to those who are going through a tomb-womb time.
To close we sing this beautiful Quaker hymn by Paulette Meier. You may think initially that this chant is too wordy or complex for kids, but Søren used to sing along to it even jumbling the words at age five…and I believe wisdom like this is absorbed by the soul even if the words don’t all register
Props for tonight
A room you can make dark (basement or otherwise)
A long string
Props for tomorrow
Decorative butterflies (you can purchase at a craft store, or you can make your own with paper)
Sending you all my own tug in the great tether of love that holds us all in the descent…