Since I was a child, I’ve been curious about Holy Saturday — where was Jesus on that day? We read in the Bible that he died on Friday and was buried. We read that he rose from his tomb alive again on Sunday. But Saturday? This held breath, this mysterious ellipsis in the story fascinates me every Holy Week.
The mystery of where Christ was and what he was doing on Holy Saturday has confounded theologians through the ages. Some believe he descended to Hell to atone for the sins of the world, while others believe he ascended to paradise (as he told the thief on the cross beside him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”) Clearly this question could be, and has been, debated endlessly; that is not my interest today. Rather, I just want to reflect on that feeling -- the existential unease of God being missing.
I think any theist has become acquainted with it over life’s ups and downs. When you lose a loved one or a home, when a deep relationship is severed by betrayal, when you are struggling for weeks, months, years on end with disease — where are you, God? may have escaped your lips. Or maybe those words never made it that far, because you quickly decided he was nowhere near enough to hear you.
The month of March was difficult. I lost my dear friend to a heart attack on the same afternoon that 23 others nearby lost their lives in a terrible tornado system. The suspense of losing power and getting constant weather alerts were enough to make me call on God for help. Huddled with my family in the hallway, I felt God was near as my heart asked for safety and peace. The weather system passed. The power returned. And then I got the call that my friend died. Through sobs, I called on God like a child calls after a beloved parent who is peeling off down the block, leaving home for good.
My mind raced: Where was God this afternoon when the tornadoes spared some and took others? Where was my friend now — asleep? In paradise? How painful to know I would never be able to return the last text or get a final hug or clink a final glass of wine. I wished to tell her how special she was one last time, to write her another role to perform then watch in awe as she blew it out of the water. But she was gone. And we were left with the mystery.
Mystery and missing answers are so intricately wrapped up in our very existence that we can hardly perceive it at times. I do not have an answer for Jesus’ whereabouts on Holy Saturday, nor the other mysteries I have been grappling with. Prayer helps, and the distance is closing again. But many of the details are beyond my comprehension. What remains clear is this: the present is a gift, love is the superpower we all possess, and weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Here’s to dawn breaking on Easter morning.
Natalia Naman Temesgen is a playwright and professor of creative writing at Columbus State University in Columbus.