22 April 2011

Holy Saturday. 'They took the body of Jesus . . .'

John 19:38-42 (RSV-Catholic Edition)

These are the closing words of the Passion according to St John read on Good Friday.

After this Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him leave. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who had at first come to him by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds' weight. They took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb where no one had ever been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, as the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there. 

Eoin 19:38-42 (An Bíobla Naofa) [Irish]

An chuid deireannach de Pháis ár dTiarna Íosa de réir Naoimh Eoin a léadh ar Aoine an Chéasta.

Ina dhiaidh sin d’iarr Iósaef ó Airiomatáia cead ar Phioláit – ba dheisceabal d’Íosa é; os íseal, áfach, ar eagla na nGiúdach – corp Íosa a bhreith leis, agus thug Pioláit an cead.Tháinig sé mar sin agus thóg sé an corp. Níocodaemas freisin – é siúd a tháinig san oíche chuige ar dtús – tháinig sé agus meascán miorra agus aló aige, timpeall céad punt meáchain. Thóg siad corp Íosa dá bhrí sin agus rinne siad é a chuachadh i línéadaí maille le spíosraí, de réir nós adhlactha na nGiúdach. San áit inar céasadh Íosa bhí gairdín, agus sa ghairdín sin bhí tuama nua nár cuireadh aon duine ann riamh roimhe. Is ansiúd a chuir siad Íosa, de bhrí gurbh é lá ullmhaithe na nGiúdach é, agus ó bhí an tuama in aice láimhe.

The Trinity, 1577, El Greco
El Greco's two paintings show two different dimensions of the death of Jesus. The first is one we are familiar with, the sorrow of Mary as she lets go of her son. There is a peacefulness about the body of Jesus, now beyong all suffering. Yet he still seems to be embracing the two who are trying to carry him - St John on the right? Mary's mantle seems to be embracing all three. Behind Mary is a dark cloud but behind the three crosses is a brighter sky, offering the hope of the Resurrection.

But in The Trinity El Greco depicts something I hadn't seen depicted or explicitly spoken about before - the Father and the Holy Spirit accepting the dead body of Jesus, God the Son who became Man and whose sacrifice of his will totally to that of the Father has won for us eternal life. This is the most precious of all gifts, but one we have to freely accept. The faces of the angels express what we feel when confronted with death, especially the violent death of a young person.

El Greco painted The Trinity the year after he finished the Pietà above. He surely had the latter very much in mind when he painted it. In embracing his Son's body the Father is embracing us all because the death of Jesus has made it possible for him to welcome us too when we die. The golden light behind the Holy Spirit hints at both Easter and Pentecost.

Today is a strange day liturgically. There are no celebrations of any kind held in the church. We wait until after nightfall to celebrate the greatest of all liturgies, the Easter Vigil.

Today is, perhaps, like a wake, even though Jesus has already been buried. I find it difficult to enter into because the world around continues normally. Here in the Philippines everything closes down on Good Friday but everything opens again on Holy Saturday and there isn't really any great air of mourning around. In Ireland, where I'm from, these days have become simply part of a long weekend holiday early in spring. Nothing more. Indeed for many in the Philippines, especially those who have some money, these too are days of holiday - going to Hong Kong to shop and relax or going to places such as Boracay island to enjoy themselves at the beach.

Yet we know that Easter is about to break forth and I know that I anticipate the joy of that.

Lamentations for Holy Saturday, Palestrina (1525 or 26 - 1594)

Prayer from the Divine Office for Holy Saturday

Almighty, ever-living God,
whose Only-begotten Son descended to the realm of the dead,
and rose from there to glory,
grant that your faithful people,
who were buried with him in baptism,
may, by his resurrection, obtain eternal life.

We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever. Amen.

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