Dancing in Black

(I wrote this for the Holy Week devotional guide for Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, where I am pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree. The growth and community I have experienced there has been transformative. I am grateful to the seminary for inviting me to share these words. It was an honor.)

The courtyard is a mass of children, older ones in soccer uniforms, younger ones toddling about, all with one thing on their minds: Easter eggs. They carry their baskets with the care of a waiter balancing a tray heavy with food, careful not to let the nourishing fare of chocolate kisses, peanut butter cups, and various assortments of colorful candies fall to the ground, where they might be scooped up by a fellow hunter. Their joy radiates out from the courtyard in squeals as they find yet another, and another, colorful egg. To see them from afar, it looks like an intricate dance.

In the center of the courtyard is a white metal Celtic cross, rising from the ground, the clear focal point around which the entire facility was built, the place where the eye is automatically drawn.

It is draped in black.

When I first arrived to serve this congregation, I was horrified at what I referred to as the Annual Holy Saturday Sacrilege. I tried to use my new pastor honeymoon period to get the egg hunt moved. I remember taking a wise and influential, as well as liturgically-sensitive ruling elder out to the courtyard to witness the spectacle. “Do you see that cross, and all those children, hunting eggs on Holy Saturday? I feel there’s incongruence here, a mixed message.”

She turned to me and said, “I agree. I think Holy Saturday is one big mixed message. Let the children hunt. It seems fitting.” And she turned and walked back inside, leaving a confused pastor in her wake.

What do we do with this strange day, after the torments of Good Friday, the failures of courage, the startling wail of Jesus about the abandonment of God? What do we do when we sense in the closed tomb encasing the body of the Anointed One not a thin place, but a chasm so large it hints at nothingness?

This may be the most honest day of Holy Week. It dares to say that the darkness of the chaotic Good Friday lingered into the quiet desperation and grief of Saturday in such a way that the church called it “Holy.” And therefore we can dare to say in the midst of the darknesses that consume our lives and the life of our world that even there, in that place, in whatever tombs encase us, even there, hidden from our sight, a presence abides, and makes even Saturday holy.

The children seem to sense it, this holiness hidden like an egg in the tall grass, a splash of color hinting at joy to come. And so they dance around the cross draped in black, acknowledging the Holy, anticipating…what exactly?

It is too soon for us to say. After all, it is Holy Saturday. There’s incongruence, some mixed messages, a fair amount of confusion, dancing in black. In other words, the place we most of us live a good bit of the time. That place -dare we say it? – is holy.

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