Dead Can Dance: A Meditation and Playlist for Holy Saturday

The Dance of Death (1493) by Michael Wolgemut, from the Liber chronicarum by Hartmann Schedel

“[Jesus] was dead, to begin with. There was no doubt about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner…. [Jesus] was as dead as a door-nail…. There is no doubt that [Jesus] was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.” adapted from Dickens’ _A Christmas Carol_

Christians are sorely tempted to gloss over or spiritualize the death of Christ. After all, how dead can we imagine the Source of all life? At what point do our imaginations fail to allow for his return to life? If we find Jesus’ resurrection easy to believe, might it be at the expense of our belief in Jesus’ death? Our scriptures and our creeds stress that Jesus did not just die, he was buried. He was counted and fully identified with the dead. He took kenosis, humanity, and mortality to their furthest limits and poured himself out even to death. Christ’s earliest followers wanted to impress upon all who would listen that he did not faint, lose consciousness, or swoon. He was not “mostly dead.” He was as dead as dead gets, deader than we’ll ever be, as ultimate in death as in life, not only the firstborn of all creation, but also the jigging and grinning leader and Lord of the danse macabre that ultimately unites us all regardless of who we were and what we believed. Wherever we go when we die, he went there, and conquered it in his own name. Harrowing of Hell - from a 15th century French Book of Hours at the Huntington Library

Death couldn’t hold him any more than heaven or earth could. Holy Saturday makes room in our theology for the death of God, and a God beyond Being, and all the contributions of William Blake and John of the Cross, Hegel and Nietchze, Caputo and Zizek. We are given a time to mourn him and celebrate his life, time for a proper wake, granted an interval to contemplate the horror of life without him, an opportunity to come together and make sense of and respond to what he was on about in life.

It’s a time to allow our perspectives to shift, like Robert DeLong sings about in “Global Concepts.”

After I die, I’ll re-awake,
redefine what was at stake
from the hindsight of a god.

Whether or not you believe Jesus completely grasped the entirety of who he was and what he came to do before he died, it’s quite obvious that his disciples did not. Only in losing him and in his return did they begin to understand the magnitude of what was at stake. Even those who believed he was the Messiah had a limited notion of what that meant before Christ’s death and resurrection. To John’s disciples who wondered if he was the One, he replied “that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Luke 7:22), and to the crowds he wondered aloud, if John’s preaching and my healing can’t do it, what’s it going to take to get you people mourning and dancing? What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed in the wind? A man in soft clothes? A prophet? What will you make of me coming to eat and drink with you?

Did I make money? Was I proud?
Did I play my songs too loud?
Did I leave my life to chance
or did I make you f***ing dance?

Holy Saturday redefines death, life, and power. The dance of the dead is not a sign of futility or defeat, but of completion, hope in more than this life, and victory.

Should I close my eyes and prophesize
Hoping maybe someday come?
Should I wet the ground with my own tears
Crying over what’s been done?

Should I lift the dirt and plant the seed
Even though I’ve never grown?
Should I wet the ground with the sweat from my brow
And believe in my good work?

Hey there, I’m flying up above
Looking down on the tired earth
I can see, I can see potential
Speaking through you, speaking to you
From all of heaven’s possibility

Power, hey, do know how it work?
Hey, do you know that the meek
They shall inherit the earth?
You should work, you should work
Yeah, for the self and the family

Should I hit the water or stay on dry land
Even though I’ve never swam?
Take machete, take them into the brush
Though at first there is no path

Taste the war paint on my tongue
As it’s dripping with my sweat
Place my gaze in the future’s path
Seeing things that ain’t come yet

Hope to watch the victory dance
After the day’s work is done
Hope to watch the victory dance
In the evening’s setting sun

Need more for your playlist? Try Elbow’s “The Night Will Always Win” (imagine Peter and Judas singing that for their various reasons), Dave Matthews’ “The Space Between” and The Waterboys’ “Song for the Life” along with, of course the Dead Can Dance’s eponymous album from way back when for atmosphere. Interestingly enough they put out an album called Anastasis (=resurrection) last year that I’ll be listening to tomorrow.

I’ll close with a poem that leads a great post on the subject of Holy Saturday by Christine Valters Paintner

Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly.
Let it cut more deep.
Let it ferment and season you as few human
Or even divine ingredients can.
Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice so tender,
My need of God
Absolutely clear

~ Hafiz

One thought on “Dead Can Dance: A Meditation and Playlist for Holy Saturday

  1. Oh my, Jenn. This is perhaps the most evocative thing I have read this season about Christ’s death and resurrection – and even though it’s post-Lent, we always live post-Easter, and so this, I hold this in my heart and ponder it. Such deep things here. Thank you.


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