View all Novenas | April 12, 2021
DAY 7 – THE SABBATH WAIT & EMPTY TOMB
At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. John 19:41-42
Reflection & novena prayers written by Jennifer Ristine and illustrated by Danielle Storey.
I imagine that Mary Magdalene lived the first Holy Saturday in an obscurity of faith. Jesus’s death appeared ignoble and did not paint his disciples in a favorable light among the authorities. But anxiety over what others thought of her was not foremost in Mary Magdalene’s mind. John and the women, with the help of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, had hastily washed and prepared Jesus’s body for burial as dusk fell on Friday afternoon. Then, impatient waiting loomed over the Sabbath day. The Sabbath day of rest was far from restful as Mary desperately longed to see the Lord once again.
How did she spend that long Saturday? Memories of Jesus lingered in her heart: his gaze, his words, his laughter, his seriousness, his reprimands that called out hypocrisy, and his gentle invitations that provoked a sense of deep freedom and joy. The memories made his absence more real as she longed for the comfort of Jesus’s presence. She seemed to flitter between longing that bordered on despair and quiet peace that assured her that all would be well, the latter coming only temporarily to temper the empty longing she felt. She did not want to accept Jesus’s absence. She could not let go of her Lord. She would seek him out, even if only to accompany his dead body.
Finally, as the first three stars appeared on the horizon, dawning a new day, Mary set out to the tomb. Her mind was fixed on seeing her Lord and giving him the reverent anointing that was his due. Imagine her dismay upon seeing the tombstone cracked in two and lying on the ground. The garden was abandoned and, alas, the tomb was empty. Where was her Jesus? Her sorrow over the cruel death of Jesus was doubly intensified at the loss of his precious body. It seemed as if she couldn’t get her bearings as confusion and a sort of despair began to cloud her vision. But we know the end of the story. She had only to wait by that empty tomb for one of the most transforming encounters of her life, when the Risen Lord would appear.
Our passing moments of despair, darkness, and confusion are temporary in this life. The essential posture in these moments is a longing and seeking heart. Memories of brighter days, past encounters with the Lord, and his promise of a reward in this life and the next sustain us in hope. Those memories are signals from the Lord, like a guiding light tower. We find the way to navigate through a dark moonless and starless sea, maintaining the course by hoping to find him once again.
And while he is seemingly absent, he works wonders in his precious and beloved souls. The ancient Holy Saturday liturgy recalls Jesus’s descent to the dead, where he preaches the good news of his triumph over sin and death, releasing all those bound since the time of Adam and Eve. The Author of Life descends into darkness to bring light and salvation (CCC 633-635).
In the spiritual life, Christ calls us to a deeper transformation and conversion of heart. The long Sabbath wait and empty tomb experience are God’s way of integrating us into the Paschal Mystery. The painful longing gives birth to the gift of hope that sustains us through a seemingly empty and dark void. But the emptiness and darkness that we feel is pregnant with the hidden presence of Christ. While we wait in patience, the Lord is at work. Hope itself places us in the presence of who we long for and gives us a taste of the salvation that is ours if we persevere, for “in hope we were saved” (Romans 8:24).
Lord Jesus, grant us an unwavering hope that sustains us in patient longing and unswerving seeking for you above all else. Sustain those who walk faithfully, yet in darkness. Have mercy and release the souls in purgatory that they may fully rest in your presence. Console all who have lost loved ones with the hope of reuniting in eternal life in communion with you, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us.
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