The call to witness and with-ness

I write these words on the vernal equinox, when the sun moves across the sky, its solar center crossing the Earth’s center, a day when darkness and light find a faithful balance, meeting as equals. It is the first day of Spring, and in Iowa a cold front is moving through. Snowdrops are blooming and snowfall is forecast. Spring emerging into the reality of Winter. New life emerging into a world that remains marked by death. Beauty coming to bloom in spite of, in the midst of, violence. Death and life are both real, urgent and present and calling us to pay attention, to feel, to care, to tend, with honesty and vulnerable openness.

Next week those of us following the Christian calendar will confront this stark meeting and mingling of death with life liturgically, as we move through Holy Week, marking Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. Of these holy days, Holy Saturday will receive the least attention. Very few churches will ritualize it. It is an awkward day, one without clear rituals. Holy Saturday marks the liminal space between life and death, the ways both life and death are real and present. Holy Saturday calls us to recognize how inseparably entangled life and death remain. Holy Saturday asks us to pause. To slow, and be still. To confront the horrors in our internal and external worlds that haunt us. To face how empty and hollowed out we can feel, even when we know the tomb, too, is empty.

Holy Saturday is an uncomfortable day, inviting us to tend to the realities of the world that make us uncomfortable. It remains holy, and calls us to remain in the chaos and confusion of a world, a life, that is overflowing with horror and wonder, both. Loss and gift, both. Beauty and brutality, both. Terror and tenderness, both. Crucifixion and resurrection, both.

In Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining, Shelly Rambo develops a theology of Holy Saturday, and argues that skipping over Jesus’ death and going right to Easter replicates the violence of his death. On Good Friday, Jesus is crucified by empire, executed by the state. He is tortured, strung up, lynched by a system and a people hell bent on stoking fear, preserving power, and responding to perceived threat with retaliation and retribution. Jesus is killed by a system and a people unwilling and unable to sit with pain, and discomfort. How tempting it is, for us too, to rush to fix or resolve or numb our pain, pretend away our discomfort, rather than learning to bear with it, and bear witness to it. How tempting it is, for us too, to rush to healing without remaining in the work of repair, reparation, redemption.

A colleague of mine, with whom I share Bible study and conversation most weeks, responded in verse: “I hear Jesus saying / unless an ending / a withdraw of pretending / the kingdom holds pending.”

Bearing witness to what is—to the complexity of what is, to the pain and sorrow and despair that is real, to the possibility and healing and glory that is real—is a practice of remaining. Remaining faithful. Remaining with. Resisting either/or narratives of victory or defeat or triumph or despair, and remaining with the both/and realities of suffering and redemption and fear and flourishing. Or else the kin-dom holds pending.

The work of the ecclesia, the call of Holy Saturday, is to practice remaining. To remain with pain, to bear witness to wounds. This is central to the work of redemption. Witness and with-ness, the Holy Week story proclaims, are practices of new life, practices opening new possibilities, practices of resurrection. Holy Saturday reminds us that redemption is encountered not in victory over death, but through remaining with death in a way that honors both life and loss, gift and grief, fear and wonder. No easy answers. No quick fixes. No superficial platitudes. God meets us in deep, complicated, and messy ways; God dwells in deep, complicated, and messy places.

Resurrection is the practice of re-assembling, the shattered and scattered pieces of our lives and communities. Resurrection is the practice of re-collecting, the lives and histories and wisdoms that have been lost, erased, dismissed, neglected. Resurrection is the practice of re-membering, the deep interconnectedness we share with one another and with the Divine.

When we remain, when we practice remaining in and with, bearing witness to the realities of crucifixion in our world, we prepare for and practice resurrection. We remain with the realities of trauma, terror, and pain we’d rather ignore or explain away. We remain with the Divine, enfleshing tender openness to what is slipping away and what is emerging. We bear witness to a Power that opens possibilities we can barely begin to imagine. We bear witness to a Presence that persists in every season and seasonal shift. We bear witness to a Love that remains—with us, in us, and through us—and remains urgently needed, in and through it all.

May it be so.

rev anna blaedel

By Rev. Anna Blaedel

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