Holy Saturday: Awake, Sleeper

It dates from day
Of his going in Galilee;
Warm-laid grave of a womb-life grey;
Manger, maiden’s knee;
The dense and the driven Passion, and frightful sweat;
Thence the discharge of it, there its swelling to be,
Though felt before, though in high flood yet—
What none would have known of it, only the heart, being hard at bay . . .

—Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Wreck of the Deutschland

The incorruptible flesh of Christ, which was taken from the substance of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s body, now lays silent and still in the dark tomb.  Gerard Manley Hopkins captures in poetry the ancient patristic dictum that the womb and the tomb relate to each other typologically:

Warm-laid grave of a womb-life grey;
Manger, maiden’s knee.

The Son of God entered a state of helplessness through His Incarnation in the womb of His Mother and was consecrated to the task of our redemption by clothing Himself in our humanity.  The enclosed space of Our Lady’s womb is the first sanctuary of salvation, which Jesus leaves miraculously by the stupendous miracle of the Virgin Birth.

Now, Our Lord lies bereft of all control over His body, His soul separated from it in death, and dwelling in the underworld with the souls of the patriarchs and holy men of the Old Covenant.  If the abasement of the Incarnation is the “sacrament” of our incorporation into the life of God, the descent beneath the earth, is the “sacrament” of the suspension of all purely human ways of thinking, choosing and acting.  The passing from life to death is the end of the old man.  The passing from death back to life is a miracle exactly parallel to that of the Virgin Birth.  Jesus rises from the tomb without breaking the seal, and brings with Him from the underworld all those imprisoned by there by death.

The enclosed spaces of our Christian life, the sanctuaries and tabernacles, the chalices and ciboria, the home, the heart and the inner sanctum of our consciences are the places where cycle of life and death are played out.  The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are always the places we seek when we retreat to these cenacles and towers of vigilance.  Those Hearts have been opened so we might enter in and be reborn from them.

Tonight’s vigil will both commemorate the historical event of the Resurrection and offer its fruits to the whole Church.  The enclosed space of the baptismal font is the tomb in which the catechumens are buried and it is also the virginal womb of the Church from which new children of God are born.  To live, we must die and be born again.

The suffering Christ, the suffering Church and we who suffering live a kind of death-life. Christ sets the example. But we who are fallen strain to see in the darkness of our entombment because our faith is weak:

The dense and the driven Passion, and frightful sweat;
Thence the discharge of it, there its swelling to be,
Though felt before, though in high flood yet—
What none would have known of it, only the heart, being hard at bay . . .

We do not always experience the “high flood” of a baptized life, but more often the “dense and driven Passion” or the “warm-laid grave of a womb-life grey.”  But the seed, which has been planted in the ground and has died, will bear much fruit (cf., Jn 12:24-25).

In an ancient homily for Holy Saturday, Christ is portrayed in the act of harrowing hell. From the back of the tomb He breaches the citadel of the Dark Lord, wielding the weapon of His victory, the Cross.  “I command you: Awake, sleeper,” he says to Adam, ” I have not made you to be held prisoner in the underworld. . .”

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side.  My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which turned against you.

Adam was cast out of the enclosed space of the garden of paradise, which an angel, brandishing a flaming sword, guarded against his return.  Now into the antechamber of hell, from which there is no escape, the Lord of Life comes to release him by means of the sword of the Cross. The way out is a way in, just as death is the doorway to life; just as the wound in the Heart of Christ is the way out of ourselves and in to paradise, just as the pierced Heart of Mary is both freedom and sanctuary; just as the tomb of Christ is the triumphal arch through which we pass on to the freedom of a new life in the kingdom of God.

Our dark and empty Church will not be so for long. Soon the Easter fire will reveal a vista of plenitude as the sign of the Morning Star that rises in the East and calls us to eternity. Our little grey cenacle will soon be a rich and lighted banquet hall, and we will enjoy the fruits of our Host’s victory.

Christ yesterday and today,
The Beginning and End,
All times are His,
And all the ages.
To Him be glory and dominion
Through all ages of eternity.  Amen.

2 thoughts on “Holy Saturday: Awake, Sleeper

  1. Pingback: Easter Sunday: Girded with Power | Mary Victrix

  2. Pingback: The Alleluia Battle Anthem | Mary Victrix

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