• Holy Saturday

    Holy Saturday

    We find ourselves with Mary, the mother of Jesus and the others who loved him, in a place of many overwhelmings this day.

    The death of love, the brokenness of life, fear of the unknown, the fading of beauty, paradise lost, the going down into hell.

    So many words to describe that word, hell. Underworld, Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, Abraham’s bosom. A place where we come face to face with our deepest dark, our fragility, our captivity to diminishment. A place of abandonment, no fragment of light.

    Was Jesus’ death a dread defeat, a victory for demonic forces, a chilling vindication of those who destroy Christ, then or now? Not delivering on his promise to provide a new ordering of life, restoration, forgiveness?

    On this day between crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus harrowed out of hell all the dead held captive there since the creation of the world. He took them by the hand and led them to Life.

    ‘When the gatekeepers of hell saw him, they fled; the bronze gates were broken open, and the iron chains were undone.’[i]

    On this Holy Saturday, may we remember the ones

    …who know their need, for theirs is the grace of heaven.
    …who weep, for their tears will be wiped away.
    …who are humble, for they are close to the sacred earth.
    …who hunger for earth’s oneness, for they will be satisfied.
    …who are forgiving, for they are free.
    …who are clear in heart, for they see the Living Presence.
    …who are the peacemakers, for they are born of God.[ii]

    And so we wait for the Third Day
    in stillness
    with a fragment of light
    trusting and hoping…

    ©Hilary Oxford Smith
    Image Candle Light, Hans Vivek, Unsplash.com

    [i] Cyril of Alexandria, Ancient Commentary on Scripture 11.107

    [ii] The Casa del Sol Blessings of Jesus, based on St. Matthew 5: 3 – 9 from the American Spirituality Center of Casa del Sol at Ghost Ranch.

  • A Shadowed Path

    A Shadowed Path

    Dawn on the Otago Peninsula. We awoke to the clarion call of a cockerel, heralding the blessing of a golden Autumn day. Jonathan Livingston Seagull shared wisdom in the sky. White feathered kotuku-ngutupapa or Royal Spoonbills, swept the low tide line of the harbour for breakfast. In the court of heaven on earth, four Royal Albatross or toroa, glided through the air, with what Herman Melville in Moby Dick, described as vast archangel wings.

    William Wales, a tutor to the English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the astronomer on HMS Resolution, voyaged with Captain James Cook to the land of ice, the southernmost continent we now call, Antarctica. Inspired by hearing stories of the sea and a fabled land, Coleridge wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, an epic tale about an albatross and the sailor who kills it with a crossbow.

    The poem is replete with imagery, allegory, superstition, and allusion. The punishment for what the sailor has done is to wear the dead bird around his neck and the rest of his life becomes one of penance as he wanders the earth, telling his salutary tale. He learns wisdom along the way, that God's creation is a beautiful gift, to be cherished.

    On Palm Sunday, we attended Choral Eucharist in St. Paul's Cathedral, Dunedin and sang, Ride on! Ride on in majesty! Sacrificial theology excepting, one line stood out for me,

         Ride on! Ride on in majesty!
         The wingèd squadrons of the sky look down with sad and wondering eyes to see the approaching sacrifice.

    I imagined that an albatross with vast archangel wings might be amongst the sorrowing company of heaven.

    In the mystery of this week we call Holy, with its darkening shadows of pain and fear, abandonment, uncertainty, betrayal, and death, might we somehow contemplate in the stories, something of the novelist, Jeanette Winterson's words, the nearness of the wound to the gift?[i]

    - Mary gently caressing the feet of Jesus with her long hair and extravagantly scented perfume, preparing him for what lies ahead.
    - Jesus, with intimacy, humility, and oneness, washing the dust from the feet of his disciples.
    - The mystery of the memory and substance of Jesus’ presence, as he and his friends share food and wine.
    - John, the disciple, whom Jesus especially loved, placing his head on Jesus’ breast in closeness, affection and love, hearing the heartbeat of God.
    - Veronica, tenderly wiping the blood and sweat from Jesus' face with her veil, his likeness forever imprinted on her heart.
    - Simon of Cyrene, forced to carry the cross through the narrow streets of Jerusalem when Jesus could no longer bear the weight of it. His life changed forever.
    - Jesus' mother Mary, the other faithful women, and John, accompanying Jesus every step of the way, hearing his loving words of familial care and loyalty. 
    - In his dying moments, self-giving love and grace shared with a thief, crucified beside him.

    Then the night of deepest loneliness. A total absence of his spirit and his life.

    At dawn, wounds become places where the light enters us. Grace takes us to the cherishing of life and the nurturing of love. The images and the echo of words we thought we had lost or left behind create a sanctuary of memory in our hearts.

    His eyes sparkle again. He tells stories by the sea. He blesses us with Love.

    ©Hilary Oxford Smith
    Image Around the Shag Rocks, Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses, Keith Shackleton, 1979. Nature in Art, Gloucester, UK. 


    [i] Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, Jeannette Winterson, 230pp, Grove Press.

  • Moments: Betwixt

    Moments: Betwixt

    Between Palm Sunday Hosannas and Easter Alleluias, Holy Saturday is a day of many overwhelmings. Mary, the mother of Jesus, John, his beloved friend, Mary Magdalene, the disciples and all the ones who loved Jesus were grieving his death. They did not know what to expect, if anything on the third day.

    We too live in a betwixt time of unknowing. Like them, we are grieving. Whatever our circumstances, life as we have known it, emotions as we have known them have become unfamiliar and bewildering. We may feel vulnerable, fragile, uncertain, fearful, fatigued and anxious about today and what the future will bring.

    From sundown this evening until sunrise tomorrow, people throughout the world, together in their separateness, will keep vigil during these in-between hours. They will give thanks for Jesus and gather the sorrowing Mary and those who loved him to their hearts. They will wait in the stillness, trusting that the ancient rhythm of the rising light and the Risen Christ will bless them and this hurting yet still beautiful world. Tomorrow, because of cloud or storm, you and I may not see the sun rise yet we too can trust that it will rise as it always has and that we also will be blessed.   

    And the day shall come when the wounds of body, mind and spirit will become places where the light enters us, where all that we thought we had lost or left behind has created a palace of memory in our hearts to which we may often return.   

    Faith, hope and love will always abide. They will have the last word.

    ©Hilary Oxford Smith
    Image pixabay, free to use