Holy Saturday is a time for joining Jesus in dying to selfishness.
I have an old Korean story for symbolizing Easter. Just fifty years ago, during the spring of 1964, I was serving my tenth year as pastor of Yang Yang, a town of mud walls and thatched roofs.
We‘d had the worst winter ever, and with people running out of fire wood and rice, the winter hung on forever. It was good for the dealers who were boosting prices out of sight.
Our church sat atop a steep hill overlooking the public school yard. Coming out from our 6:30 Mass every morning, I had made a habit of watching the struggles of a nine-year-old student with his book bag strapped to his back. While all the other kids plodded the path around our hill to the school, that little boy felt the need to climb up one side of our hill, then carefully step down the path on the other side.
One morning, I was watching the kid making his quick passage across to the down path, when I was surprised to see him stop and hunker for a bit at the edge of our yard. He then went on his way, and I went in for breakfast.
Then, at ten o’clock I had another surprise. I happened to glance out at the mailman making his passage across our yard. When I saw him stop and bend down at the spot where the little boy had stopped I walked out. He was a friendly fellow, so I asked what had caught his attention.
Running the yard’s rim there were the frozen remains of what thr year before we had dug up for a flower bed. Standing next to the mailman, I looked down on a single green sprout. It was like a single spike of asparagus, and the mailman said, “Paikhwa gotchida.” Or, “It’s a paik-hwa flower.”
Going into the house, and looking paik-hwa up in the dictionary, I found that it was a lily.
Then, through the day I saw one person after another stopping to look at the lily. They were not so much joyous over that single lily, as over the promise it gave that all of nature would come back to life.
In Christianity’s first centuries their Holy Saturday rituals were centered n the baptismal pool. Where we today have the R.C.I.A. preparing candidates for the Sacrament of Baptism, the early Church had a highly structured catechumenate. While it was teaching candidates about Christianity, it was really focused on conditioning them to banish sinfulness from their lives.
Back then, while on Good Friday Christians prayed over the death of Jesus, on Saturday they focused on dying to sin with Jesus. They gathered around a pool which served both as a symbol of Christ’s grave and as their baptism pool. ( Holy Saturday was the only day in the year when they had adult baptisms.)
Each of the candidates for Baptism had been trained to take to heart those words of St. Paul’s that said Jesus saved us by his death to sin. The baptism ceremony for each of them consisted of him or her accepting the pool as a symbol of Christ’s grave, and then stepping down into it as a way of swearing to join Christ in being dead to sin.
In early Christianity people not yet baptized were not allowed to view the Mass. Then, after their baptism late on Holy Saturday night, they went to the Easter Mass at dawn. As they were passing from the baptistery, each was met by the bishop who anointed him or her with Chrism, telling the newly baptized Christian that the anointing was asking God to take possession of the heart that had died to sin. (That was Confirmation.)
Those of us who are old Catholics should not feel that we have no part in the Holy Saturday rituals. Rather, the whole season of lent has been a time for us to renew our baptismal vows. With sincerity and generosity of heart each of us must reject Satan and all his works.
There are a few lines of poetry that might help you in picturing the struggle between God and sin for the control of your heart. The great Anglican poet, Father George Herbert wrote these lines.
Now, Lord, thou dost thyself immure and close
In some one corner of a feeble heart,
Where yet both Sin and Satan, thy old foes
Do pinch and straighten thee, and use much art
to gain thy thirds and little part.
We can only have a happy Easter if we have banished sin and Satan from our hearts.