To fully embrace the darkness and silence of Holy Saturday, we met together underground in the tomb-like cellar of a Brighton Hotel. We marked this unique, yet often overlooked day in the calendar with our own version of a traditional Tenebrae Service. Nestled between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Holy Saturday exists almost as a non-place, with many lingering questions surrounding the absence of God. When Christ called out 'Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?' he experienced that complete isolation from the Father which leaves us with some poignant challenges to our existing faith. For example, in identifying with Christ's followers at the time and without the knowledge of the resurrection, we might ask ourselves whether or not we would continue to follow the way of Jesus. Do we follow him now for his own sake or because we might get
something out of it?
There were plenty of opportunities for similar questions throughout the event. It was split into six sections with a moment for contemplation, music or silence between each one. The long, narrow, stone room was dark with light emanating only from six candles lit at the front on a table. Upon entering, visitors were invited to wash their hands in a bowl of red wine and then dry them on a large white sheet hanging loosely behind the front table. After considering our role in the death of Jesus through this act so reminiscent of Pilate, two people got up to prepare the bare table with a cloth, plates, bread and wine - evoking the feeling of The Last Supper. Starting with The Shadow of Betrayal, another two people read an excerpt from Jesus' conversation with his disciples, indicating that one of them was indeed about to betray him. Projecting onto the sheet hanging behind was some powerful imagery showing clips of bread dough being pummeled and kneaded, interspersed with grapes being picked and trampled underfoot. We watched the various ways that the dough was beaten and stretched, along with the grapes being crushed and squeezed for a while, considering it's violent parallel with Christ's body. One of the candles at the front was extinguished.
Our second part, The Shadow of Anguish involved a distressed reading from a Psalm of David where he cries out to God from his despair:
"Be merciful to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief.
My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning;
My strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak.
Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbours;
I am a dread to my friends -- those who see me on the street flee from me.
I am forgotten by them as though I were dead;
I have become like broken pottery.
For I hear the slander of many; there is terror on every side;
They conspire against me and plot to take my life.But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, "You are my God."
Afterwards, a clay pot on the table is smashed with a hammer. Throughout this, the screen shows a droplet of blood falling and dispersing into a pool of water. We are reminded of the blood that Jesus sweat in the garden of Gethsemane, and then there is a dialogue from the moment he prays for the cup of suffering to be taken away from him. Another candle is extinguished.
For The Shadow of Treachery, a reading took place relaying the betrayal of Judas where he hands Jesus over to the authorities after kissing him. A man stands at the front in a white shirt with a clear lipstick mark on the collar, removing it after Jesus has been arrested then places it on the table. We listen to Kissing You by Des'ree, wrestling with the tension that exists between a symbol of such love and an action of betrayal that changed the course of history. The third candle is then extinguished.
The Shadow of Hypocrisy. Next, we are reminded of how Pilate washed his hands of Jesus' blood by handing him over to the people crying out for him to be crucified. The dull thud of a drum beaten monotonously echoed throughout the cellar as readers recounted Jesus' death sentence. Yet another candle goes out.
As a crown of thorns is set on the table during The Shadow of Humiliation, the readers take us through Jesus' last moments when he was struck, spat on, mocked and eventually nailed to a cross. We listened to the following reading taken from Isaiah:
'But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our sin; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. He was oppressed and afflicted; yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.'
After each sentence, a lingering pause followed, during which a man used a mallet to embed three rusty nails in a wooden cross. The sudden, deafening blows splintered through the silence and rang in our ears before the fifth candle was blown out.
A film clip follows, taken from Fight Club. The scene presents us with some particularly probing assertions, including the fictional Tyler Durden asking us to come to terms with certain potential realities in order that we might crucially experience the loss of everything before we're free to do anything.
For our sixth and final part, The Death of Jesus, we listened to the account of Jesus' very last hour. After hearing of how he was given vinegar on a sponge, we shared communion together, using vinegar instead of the expected wine. Then the sheet being used for projections, which we had earlier dried our hands on, was torn entirely in two, resembling the temple curtain. The dramatic tear signaled the end of our event, as the sixth and final candle was extinguished and we sat together for a while in complete darkness.
The feeling of suspense was lingering as there was no mention of the next day, we simply left it at the death of Jesus and imagined the utter despair the disciples would have gone through after such an event.