It’s been a year. That is a loaded statement. For me, today, it takes on a different meaning. It’s been a year since the beginning of the Emmaus Institute for Ministry Formation. Last year at this time, I remember it being a beautiful, sunny day in Collegeville. I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to get everything ready for the opening banquet and the first classes. Because this was a brand-new program and I’ve never done anything on this scale before, there were so many details I had missed and had to get in place at the last minute. Panicking because I was getting messages from people that there were students coming who hadn’t applied. Will there be enough room? Enough materials? Enough food? Did I have materials for extra name tags? All the while making notes in my head about what to do next year when we begin.
Then the students started to arrive. And my friends to simply offer support and help where they could. The joy in the room was palpable and contagious. Jubilant greetings in English and Spanish. Hearty handshakes and huge hugs. This was a room full of people who were so excited to be together to learn more about their faith and their ministry it could not be contained. I was able to sneak away for a little while for a celebratory drink with a couple of friends to reflect on that joy. I couldn’t sleep that night because of the joy that was infused in me. The uncontainable joy spilled over into class time and break time and the rest of the weekend including our Sunday Eucharist. It spilled over into subsequent weekends with potlucks and shared liturgies. I had encountered the Risen Christ on the Road to Emmaus.
It’s been a year. A lot has changed. Today is a much different day for me. Today we begin the second year of the Emmaus Institute. It is a cool, cloudy day in Collegeville, much more in keeping with my mood. I came to campus earlier so that I would have time to get things set up and not run around in a panic. It didn’t take as long to get set up as it did last year. So, I sit in the silence of my makeshift office in an Emmaus Hall classroom. There are no last-minute calls that we are getting more students. Instead, they are the last-minute emails that another person is not going be coming tonight, this weekend, this year. There is no opening banquet. No hugs and handshakes. No snacks or drinks to linger over during break time. No celebratory drink with friends or to be able to share in the evening in person. No joyful Sunday Eucharist in English and Spanish. Anxiety hangs heavy in the air for everyone and I know anxiety will be the cause of my sleepless night.
This is where you would expect my story turns to the hopeful. I can do anything through Christ who strengthens me. God will help us carry the load. Joy is present because we are all together. In other years, I may have tried to find the silver lining in the story. What great thing does it reveal about God’s love for me, in spite of the struggle? I always try to find the good in any situation, but it has been a year. It feels as though I am stuck in Good Friday and cannot even fathom the joy of Easter Sunday. In order to get from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, I must experience Holy Saturday.
For me, Holy Saturday is a day of silence, a time of uncertainty and anticipation. One of my favorite things to do that day before Easter Vigil rehearsal and church decorating, would be to simply sit in the church alone. I would soak up the silence, anticipating the beautiful evening liturgy that would begin in darkness. I would imagine what the disciples were most likely feeling that day: afraid, abandoned, unsure, confused, devastated. There was something of those feelings present in me as I sat in the church. In spite of those feelings on Holy Saturday – and that I feel even more strongly now – I would always find a glimmer of hope in the silence of Holy Saturday.
In the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday, an ancient homily is read. “Something strange is happening — there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and Hell trembles with fear. He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, He who is both God and the Son of Eve.”
While I experience the struggles of the world right now, and they weigh heavy, I know that God is still there. I continue to sit in the silence, the fear, the uncertainty and pray for the glimpses of that hope that God has not abandoned me. The God who died for me will seek me out in the depths of fear and anxiety, just as was done for Adam and Eve that first Holy Saturday. It is enough to move me from the pain of Good Friday to Holy Saturday. I may be there for a while with all of the unknowns of that day and every day and I embrace it.