Faith & reason: A day to watch and wait in silence

Dr Martyn Percy, Chaplain of Christ's College, Cambridge, concludes our series for Holy Week with a reflection on Holy Saturday: a day of vigil, a prelude to a mystery.

We have passed Good Friday, and tomorrow it will be Easter. The visual identity of these is clear. The end of Lent is stark - no flowers, decoration or celebration - and culminates with a single image: one man, pathetic, hanging on a cross: a victim of capital punishment, he slumps there, stoically. Easter Day, by contrast, is a rush of colour: golds, whites and yellows; festivity and flowers. Between the worlds of these two extremes stands Holy Saturday, its mood subdued yet charged with anticipation.

For many people the problem with Holy Saturday is that there is nothing actually to see. The Wondrous Cross is not there to be surveyed, but it is not yet time to stare into the empty tomb. The time of vigil has come, and we wait in silence, stillness and in the darkness. In some ways, this is just as well. The visual images of Good Friday - in paintings, films and television - are over-familiar, almost prosaic. All too often, Jesus looks quite solemn but resigned on his cross; passively accepting his fate. Pain, in one still portrait, is not easy to capture, and the very act of committ-ing that event to canvas or to the screen is an act that loses something of the reality of Good Friday.

But suppose we just shut our eyes and listen. A few years ago a short play for radio told the story of Genesis i-iii through two lowly back- room angels whose task in God's workshop was to dub the sound on to creation. As they talk about the sounds to be made by fish, birds, animals, seas and rivers, attention focuses on a box in the corner of the sound workshop. "That box," says the senior to the junior, "is full of sounds you don't want to hear . . . a child crying, a mother dying, the sound of war . . . screams, the rattle of death . . . Once you open the box, you'll release the noises of chaos, and you'll never get them back in."

Inevitably the young angel, in the absence of his mentor, prises open the lid and lifts it slightly. He hears no scream, nor the sound of war - just the crunch of teeth into a crisp green apple.

Lent is about acknowledging that all those sounds have been let out long ago; we cannot control them. Good Friday and Easter Sunday are about hearing them contract and be redeemed in the events of the cross and resurrection. It is the sound of fury on Good Friday that cancels out the sound of the Fall, and brings the peace of Easter on a lush spring day. Listening in silence, and imagining, stops us being seduced by the anodyne portrayals that turn the crucifixion into a still frame - a moment of sacred, but ultimately safe, contemplation. So, Holy Saturday is a prelude to a mystery: one that defies sight. That is why Wittgenstein reminds us that "whereof we cannot speak, we must be silent". So silence it must be, today. The poet Sylvia Sands puts it like this:

Creation takes Him to her heart

And

Wraps rock-green darkness

Around his tortured limbs.

The hidden walls

Sweat

With anticipation;

While little animals who live beneath the earth

Wait.

Animals had watched

His lonely

Cattle-shed birth.

Now,

They keep vigil at his wake . . .

Knowing,

Waiting,

These little listening animals,

For the first creative

Tremors

Which herald

The earthquake

of

His resurrection.

Good Friday and Easter Sunday are linked by a fierce but tender sound - that of earth quaking and ground breaking. But they carry different messages. Tonight, all over the world, people will sit in silence and in the darkness between these sounds. In the vigil they keep, they will hear the story of their redemption, long, long ago. They will wait and watch for a spark, that first flame of the Easter Light.

At its appearance, there will be a new noise- shouts of acclamation and the sound of celebration. And the Silenced Word will speak once more.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment & HR Administrator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Business Partner

£55 - 65k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: A HR Manager / HR Business Partner i...

Recruitment Genius: Senior HR Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company's vision is to be t...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most