Our annual Holy Saturday event took place at the weekend in a disused Church in Brighton. It was a highly appropriate tomb-like venue with its long stone walls and dark interior. For the third year in a row, 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.
The event was split into six sections, with a moment for silent contemplation between each one. Our only light source came from six candles placed along the floor in the aisle, casting their flickering shadows over the solemn visitors.
The Shadow of Betrayal For the first scene, a table at the front was laid with plates, bread and wine as two people read an excerpt from Jesus' conversation with his disciples, indicating that one of them was about to betray him. Throughout the event, Jesus was referred to only as 'Teacher', with the disciples as 'Followers'. Removing the individual names proved potent as we were able to imagine ourselves in the roles, considering perhaps more vividly what it would have felt like to have been in the same situation. Readers sat interspersed with visitors so that the voices sounded from different places around the room. The scene ended with a desperate reading from Ecclesiastes:
"And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been, who has not seen the evil
that is done under the sun."
One of the candles was extinguished.
The Shadow of Anguish For this scene, a clay pot was placed on the central table. The spoken words were from Gethsemane, when Jesus declared that his soul was "overwhelmed to the point of death". He begged for the cup of suffering to be taken from him, before eventually surrendering his own will. A voice near the front cried out the moving words of David from this Psalm:
"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;
Afterwards, the clay pot was smashed with a hammer and lay in pieces on the table. The second candle was then extinguished.
They conspire against me and plot to take my life."
The Shadow of Treachery Here, a white shirt replaced the shattered clay, revealing a lipstick kiss on the collar. A reading took place relaying the betrayal of Judas where he hands Jesus over to the authorities after kissing him. Kissing You by Des'ree played afterwards, emphasising the paradox that exists between a symbol of such love and an action of utter betrayal which changed the course of history. The words Sealed With A Lethal Kiss unfolded above our heads as they projected onto the church wall.
The third candle was then extinguished.
The Shadow of Hypocrisy Next, we were reminded of how Pilate washed his hands of Jesus' blood by handing him over to the people calling out for him to be crucified. The cries of "Kill Him" were almost unnerving as they reverberated around the stone room when readers recounted Jesus' death sentence.
"He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem."
The fourth candle was blown out.
The Shadow of Humiliation For this scene, a crown of thorns was set upon the table. The readers took us through Jesus' last moments when he was struck, spat on, mocked and eventually nailed to a cross. More haunting words of Ecclesiastes' emptiness followed:
"Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?"
A lingering pause ensued, after which someone used a mallet to embed three rusty nails in a wooden cross on the floor. The sudden, deafening blows splintered through the silence and rang in our ears before the fifth candle was blown out.
The Death of Jesus For our sixth and final scene, with very little light left, 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 bitter vinegar instead of the expected wine. Then the sheet that we had erected in front of the altar (Holy of Holies) was torn in two from top to bottom, resembling the temple curtain. The dramatic ripping sound 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 lingered on, as there was no mention of the next day. We simply left it at the death of Jesus whilst imagining the utter despair the disciples would have gone through after such an event.