Great and Holy Saturday

I’m trying to buckle down, slice up some wool sweaters, and get to work today. But my mind is distracted.

This day, this in-between day that sits after Good Friday and before Easter morning, always makes me somber. What took place that Saturday before the original Easter, the day of Jesus’ resurrection? We don’t know, and whatever it is is likely beyond my earth-bound comprehension anyway. But there is a poem that has moved me since I first read it in my 20s with one possibility of that particular Saturday’s events.

The poet is Madeleine L’Engle, also author of the much better known A Wrinkle in Time. She wrote this poem in response to a fresco in the Church of the Chora in Istanbul. She says in The Irrational Season (1977):

“I stood there, trembling with joy, as I looked at this magnificent painting of the harrowing of hell. In the center is the figure of Jesus striding through hell, a figure of immense virility and power. With one strong hand he is grasping Adam, with the other, Eve, and wresting them out of the power of hell.”

By Gunnar Bach Pedersen (Self-photographed) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“Great and Holy Saturday”
by Madeleine L’Engle

Death and damnation began with my body still my own,
began when I was ousted from my place,
and many creatures still were left unnamed.
Gone are some, now, extinct, and nameless,
as though they had never been.
In hell I feel their anxious breath, see their accusing eyes.
My guilt is heavier than was the weight of flesh.

I bear the waste of time spent in recriminations
(“You should not have…” “But you told me…” “Nay, it was you who…”).
And yet I knew my wife, and this was good.
But all good turned to guilt. Our first-born
killed his brother. Only Seth gave us no grief.
I grew old, and was afraid; afraid to die, even knowing
that death had come, and been endured, when we
were forced to leave our home, the one and only home a human man
has ever known. The rest is exile.
Death, when it came, was no more than a dim
continuation of the exile. I was hardly less a shadow
than I had been on earth, and centuries
passed no more slowly than a single day.

I was not prepared to be enfleshed again,
reconciled, if not contented, with my shadow self.
I had seen the birth of children with all its blood and pain
and had no wish ever to be born again.

The sound, when it came, was louder than thunder,
louder than the falling of a mountain,
louder than the tidal wave crashing down the city walls,
stone splitting, falling, smashing.
The light was brutal against my shaded eyes,
blinding me with brilliance. I was thousands 
of years unaccustomed to the glory.
Then came the wrench of bone where bone had long been dust.
The shocking rise of dry bones, the burning fleshing,
the surge of blood through artery and vein
was pain as I had never known that pain could be.
My anguished scream was silenced as my hand was held
in a grip of such authority I could not even try to pull away.
The crossed gates were trampled by his powerful feet
and I was wrenched through the chasm
as through the eye of the hurricane.
And then—O God—he crushed me
in his fierce embrace. Flesh entered flesh;
bone, bone. Thus did I die, at last.
Thus was I born. 
Two Adams became one.
And in the glory Adam was.
Nay, Adam is.

Perhaps this will carry your imagination—or heart—to considerations beyond bunnies, baskets and eggs, sweet though they may be, toward the immense power and astonishing purpose of the original Easter weekend.

(I’m so grateful to artists, writers, and musicians who can help me with this. Tomorrow I have one more to share! For earlier Easter posts, see here, here, and here.)

Beneath the cross

Every year on Good Friday, I like to take time alone to reflect on Jesus’ cross and how his act changed history and the world…and my life. This morning I was especially affected by one particular verse of the old hymn, “Beneath the Cross of Jesus.” It is worth sharing.


Upon the cross of Jesus, my eye at times can see

the very dying form of one who suffered there for me.

And from my contrite heart, with tears, two wonders I confess:

the wonder of his glorious love and my unworthiness.

(You may follow the links below to find lyrics to the entire hymn and also to hear its beautiful melody.)

Photo credit: Kenneth Keifer

Hymn text: Elizabeth C. Clephane, 1830-1869

Hymn tune: Frederick C. Maker, 1844-1927

Easter and the Good Shepherd

Happy Easter to each of you!  In our family, we greet each other Easter morning with: “He is risen!  He is risen indeed!”  I wish I could share my fresh-baked hot cross buns with you for breakfast. (Except — oops — they are bare, as I forgot to slice the crosses on the top of this batch.)

Easter and Good Friday and The Green Sheep have all made me think about the references to sheep in the Bible.  There are many.  For the past 8 months, I’ve been studying the book of Isaiah with a great group of women — a tremendous study.  There’s lots about sheep there, a bit of which I shared in my Good Friday post.

(Photo by mehmetgoren)

Last year we studied the book of John, another wildly wonderful book.  I remembered some talk about shepherds there, so I went back to find it.  In chapter 10, Jesus used some very familiar “people in the neighborhood” (a la Sesame Street, Hebrew style) to teach something about himself.  He said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10.11).

(Photo by Jim Richardson)

This reminds me of the 23rd psalm, where David describes the day-to-day shepherding care he received from the Lord.  (And I think it’s cool that David wrote from what he knew, as he was a shepherd before becoming king.)  “The Lord is my shepherd,” he wrote, “I shall not be in want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.  He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake”  (Psalm 23.1-3).

So how does this tie to Easter?  Well, Jesus did an extraordinary thing in laying down his life to conquer sin (Good Friday) and then in rising to conquer death (Easter).   Today he LIVES as a guiding, care-taking, restoring shepherd…to those lost sheep like me who call on him.

Good Friday and Straying Sheep

Last year, while visiting a church, my husband and I saw this unusual cross.  It has nails pounded into it to write out an incredible passage from Isaiah.  It’s about Jesus.

It says:  “He was pierced for our transgressions,

he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,

and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,

each of us has turned to his own way;

and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all”  –Isaiah 53.5-6.

(Photo by Daniele Sartori)

So that’s what happened on “Good Friday.”  I am one of those straying sheep and am so grateful that Jesus took the cost of my sin upon himself.  Seriously.  By his wounds I have been healed.  It’s more than I can comprehend and yet I am so thankful!