The Power of Transformative Silence on Holy Saturday

Rachel Forton

The Power of Transformative Silence on Holy Saturday

Perhaps you have faithfully lived out your Lenten promises these past six weeks, or maybe your fast or added practice was cast aside early on. Whatever your Lent has looked like, Holy Week is now upon us and offers another chance to join the Lord on His dramatic journey to Easter. Holy Thursday and Good Friday are rich with traditions and rituals that enable you to visualize what is happening to Jesus on these days. The washing of the feet, the long readings of the Passion, and the Stations of the Cross are concrete ways to observe these holy days. But what about Holy Saturday? 

What happens on Holy Saturday? We wait.

Holy Saturday is a beautiful day of transition: what was is no more, and what will be is not yet. Waiting is at the very heart of the Paschal Mystery. After the pain and death of Good Friday, Jesus’ body enters the tomb. The disciples wait for the unknown events coming next. Jesus had invited them to stay near, keep watch, and pray. What did God the Father do on Holy Saturday? Perhaps another way to ask that question is, What happened to Jesus in the tomb? What transformation took place there? 

We know that when Jesus emerged from the tomb on Easter Sunday, Mary Magdalene did not recognize Him at first. He did not look like Himself, the Jesus she followed and served and loved. It is not until He said her name, “Mary,” that she recognized her beloved Teacher. Something about Him was different, yet He was still Jesus. Perhaps He was more Himself then than ever before; perhaps He was more authentically alive in His resurrection. The same opportunity presents itself to us on Holy Saturday. After a long Lent of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, God invites us to be transformed and resurrected with Jesus, to become more authentically alive and ourselves. 

Entering the Tomb

If we endeavor to prayerfully enter into Holy Saturday, we must enter the tomb with Jesus and wait for God to transform us. Often we’ve come to confuse “waiting” with “doing nothing,” and that is one of the reasons we so frequently avoid it. But prayerful waiting requires our attention and our full presence. We trust that God is already waiting there for us, ready to whisper into our ear who we might be if we let Him do His work of creating us anew.

Our work in waiting is to pay attention and let go. We stay aware of the present reality in stillness, in quiet. Jesuit theologian Walter Burghardt called prayer “a long, loving look at the real.” On Holy Saturday, that is pretty much all we can do. Look on in wonder at what God might be doing to our very souls in the dark silence of the tomb, and let go enough to let Him do it. 

We can imagine this as sitting at the feet of Jesus, who is with us in the very tomb. We simply gaze at His face and listen for what He might say. Henri Nouwen wrote, “Prayer is a way of life which allows you to find a stillness in the midst of the world where you open your hands to God’s promises, and find hope for yourself1.” This posture of prayer is what allows the tomb of death to become a womb of new life.

What does this tomb-entering look like on a practical level? How do we find and enter that inner part of ourselves where the real self, the new life God has promised us, is waiting to emerge? We carve out time for silence, time for questions to surface and time for those questions to linger as we wait for God’s answers. On Holy Saturday, this might look like silencing your cell phone, turning off the TV, putting the book down, or quieting the music. God speaks in the silence of the heart. Physical silence gives way to spiritual silence, a quieting of the mind and thoughts so that God may enter and whisper just loud enough for you to hear.

Finding Jesus Within

The work of finding Jesus living within is the most essential component of Holy Saturday waiting. In entering the tomb, entering into Jesus’ death within us, we can come to find His life within us. In finding the true part of ourselves, we find Jesus. He IS the truest part of my self. What I find is His divine life within me. This is central to Cora Evans’ understanding of divine indwelling: I have Jesus with me. Not in some far-off imagined way, but in a physically palpable, perceivable, life-giving way of knowing that He somehow dwells within me.

In the silence of Holy Saturday, we encounter the central, mysterious Miracle of our faith: From the dark silence of the tomb, God brings forth light and joy and life itself. It is our work in waiting to hold onto the hope that God will make good of His promises to us, that He will fill the dead parts of us with new life. 

The great spiritual master Meister Eckhart said, “There is something in the soul which is only God.” In the tomb, we allow that part of our soul to emerge in greater measure. Old selves have died, making room for a new, truer self to emerge. It is a chance for the very Spirit of Jesus to take deeper root in us, allowing us to live from His strength into the Easter season – to be His resurrected life in a world which so desperately needs Him.

Questions for Silent Reflection

Do I have faith that God will keep His promises to me? Why or why not?
What parts of myself have died this Lent, and what parts of myself are waiting to emerge on Easter? What might God be doing to transform me?
What am I waiting for? What do I desire?


1. Nouwen, Henri  J.M. With Open Hands. Ave Maria Press, 2006.