A couple weeks ago, my daughter came home with a puffy cheek. At first, I thought she had gotten her hands on an enormous wad of bubble gum, but that didn’t make sense as her teacher Mrs. Ray does not abide that kind of nonsense. Then I remembered, how Josephine had been complaining off and on of a sore tooth. But as a good, devoted and highly attentive mother, I had minimized her complaints, assuring her that she had a dentist appointment in a few weeks.
I was sure that some other kid in her class had lost a tooth or had a cavity filled, resulting in typical little kid empathy, which often confuses one person’s experience with their own.
But no. The next morning, after making an emergency run to the dentist, we discover that Josephine had a hole in her tooth from an inadequately sealed cavity that had resulted in an abscess. An abscess?! I was filled with guilt and general HORROR at my flippant response to her complaints.
The solution: two full weeks of antibiotics for the infection and only then, would they remove the tooth. In the meantime, sit with it. Unresolved. Rotten tooth in her little head. For two weeks.
I don’t know if it is an endearing element of my personality or some deep character flaw, but I do not “sit with it” well. I wanted that tooth out that very second. Sit with it?! Please.
Today, Holy Saturday, is the ultimate “sit with it” day. Jesus is in the tomb and, though we have the benefit of knowing how the story turns out, the disciples did not. I had never considered before how difficult it must have been for the day following the crucifixion to have been a Sabbath, a day in which only minimal activity and movement were permitted. No busy work to numb the idle mind, no chores to stop the cascade of thoughts and memories, no long walk to process all that had occurred.
Sit with it.
One of the Psalms assigned for this Holy Saturday is Psalm 88. One of the most precious elements of the Psalms, particularly lament Psalms, is how they end. They almost always end in praise, in a reaffirmation of God’s character, God’s goodness, God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.
But not Psalm 88. This Psalm is a “Prayer for help in despondency” and it is not pulling any punches.
For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;
I am like those who have no help,
like those forsaken among the dead,
like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
for they are cut off from your hand.
You have put me in the depths of the Pit,
in the regions dark and deep.
Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
and you overwhelm me with all your waves.
I read it this morning, fully anticipating the turnaround at the end, the return to praise, the expression of gratitude, the reminder of God’s promises and faithfulness. But it doesn’t come. Not this time. In the last stanza, the Psalmist cries out all the more, asking
O Lord, why do you cast me off?
Why do you hide your face from me?
It calls to mind the cry of Jesus from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is the Psalm of Holy Saturday. It is the Psalm of the unresolved, the Psalm of no reply from on high. It is the Psalm of divine silence in the face of despair. It is the Psalm of no comfort. It is the Psalm, the prayer, to which God seems to reply, Sit with it.
I resist, I thrash against this command of the Lord, to sit with it. But on this Holy Saturday, I obey. I sit with the weight of the unresolved griefs of my parish, my flock, on my heart. I sit with the burden of the divine silences under which those I love sit. I call to mind the devastatingly, crushing stillness of that Sabbath so long ago, as the disciples were forced to sit with it, their loss, their shame, their despair. And like the Psalmist of Psalm 88, I cry out, to the Lord.
Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry.
Perhaps in this posture, of sitting with it, my heart will be ready to receive what might come at the break of dawn…