We know Good Friday all too well. We know Easter Sunday too well too. The one is trauma swathed in rites that are themselves always in danger of degenerating into sentimentality. The other is an unrepresentable event, proclaimed with an imperative ("Rejoice!") but likewise spinning off layers of sentimentality. Neither of them are really understandable. The death of God, what can that mean? The resurrection -- even more unimaginable. The icon of the resurrection is precisely an acknowledgment that the event is undepictable, and every fundamentalist attempt to imagine "what the camera would have captured" degenerates into kitsch.
But Holy Saturday is unimaginable in a different way, and its resistance to representation has been dealt with not by enwrapping it in layers of custom (whether legitimate or not), but by more or less ignoring it. I am not the first to point this out, of course; and since von Balthasar's Mysterium Paschale, meditations on Holy Saturday have become more frequent. When I discovered this book it was like finding a treasure, for Holy Saturday has always seemed to me to be the essence of Christianity in this world.
Both rival interpretations thereof (the "Harrowing of Hell" vs. von Balthasar's suffering Christ, of which perhaps there is a foretaste in the cross-cry "My God, my God--") seem to me pertinent. Which conception of the Good is more coherent, more intuitively obvious: a Good which is defeated by either brute indifference or outright evil but never, ever makes use of power against the forces arrayed against it; or a Good which "triumphs in the end"?
There is no Eucharist in the liturgy of Holy Saturday (indeed, there is hardly any liturgy). In this respect it is, as Rahner saw, a sort of temporal analogy for the normal, everyday secular world. This is a tremendous paradox, since the absence of the Eucharist obviously marks Holy Saturday as the exception, not the norm. An inversion of the sabbath. In a sense, Holy Saturday is the moment in the year when the year turns inside- (or rightside-?) out; the norm of the world becomes the norm of the church, and is recast as a hallowed mode of waiting in hope, (albeit a strange hope, a hope without hope, "for hope would be hope for the wrong thing" as Eliot writes).
Easter is proclaimed in a world in which the bullets fly and the machetes hack, children are still locked in closets, women are still unsafe on the street, and the animals and plants and ecosystems all are dubbed with the euphemistic term "natural resources" while the seas choke with plastic and oil and the snowlines of mountains creep inch by inch toward the vanishing point. In a hundred thousand ways small and great our hearts break. I affirm with all my soul that "all manner of thing shall be well;" but I cannot imagine it. For myself, I am 364 days of the year on Holy Saturday, wondering, "Who will roll away the stone from the tomb for us?"
The tomb turns inside-out. But it will not look like what we imagine.