The four gospels do not tell us much about what happened on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We know that after Jesus died, the disciples stayed behind locked doors for fear of the Jewish leaders who had conspired to put Jesus to death (John 20:19). Their fear was well-founded because on that Saturday, the chief priests and the Pharisees met with Pilate and asked him to order the tomb sealed to prevent the disciples from stealing Jesus’ body (Matthew 27:62-66). After the resurrection, those same religious leaders would bribe the guards so they would spread the rumor that the disciples had indeed stolen Jesus’ body from the tomb (Matthew 28:11-15). In a bizarre twist, Jesus’ opponents had a greater belief in his resurrection than his disciples. The only other detail we know about Saturday is that because it was the Sabbath, the women who were with Jesus at the cross rested according to the commandment (Luke 23:56).
In the various Christian traditions this day goes by several names: Holy Saturday, Great Saturday, Easter Eve, and Silent Saturday. There are not many liturgical practices associated with this day. It is meant for rest and reflection because on this day Jesus “rested” in the tomb. Often this day is used to prepare food for the great Easter celebration that comes on Sunday. Some churches celebrate the Easter Vigil which begins after sundown on Saturday night.
It is a long day, this Silent Saturday. In many ways it represents life as it is for all of us. Though we like to say that we live on the other side of Easter, and that of course is true in the ultimate sense, it is also true that we live somewhere between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The crucifixion is behind us, but death is still with us and the final victory lies somewhere in the future. Every funeral (and I am thinking now of two dear friends who died recently) reminds us that “the final enemy that will be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). Death was defeated by Jesus, but it has not yet been destroyed. That happy day is still in front of us.
As you make your way through this Silent Saturday, this holy day when our Lord was still in the tomb, here are some resources for your reflection:
When I preached through the Apostles’ Creed four years ago, I devoted an entire sermon to the word “buried” in the Creed. The sermon is called God’s Scapegoat.
For those who wonder why Easter comes so early this year (this is the earliest date in 95 years), check out this article from the London Daily Mail. Easter will not fall on March 23 again until 2160. Good luck trying to figure out the formula for calculating when Easter will occur each year.
Do you remember the controversy last year about the supposed discovery of the “lost tomb of Jesus”? Thomas Madden explains why it was just a sensationalist fantasy with no real facts to back it up.
Finally, if you would like to have your heart stirred, take four minutes to watch this video called Sunday's Comin'.
Keep the faith, brothers and sisters. Yesterday our Lord was crucified. Today his body lies in the tomb. Tomorrow he rises from the dead. Saturday can seem like a long day–and it is–but be of good cheer. The crucifixion is behind us, Saturday will not last forever. Sooner than we think, Sunday will be here. As one writer put it, when Jesus walked out of the tomb, all his people came out with him.
Sunday’s comin’. Let that thought give strength to your heart today.