With 2,000 odd years of practice, we’ve cultivated an understanding of what it means to thankful for the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord. The ultimate reason we hold to for our faith is celebrated this weekend.
This year, my church – like many, I’m sure – is holding a sombre gathering on Friday evening to mark the events leading up to the death of Jesus. On Sunday, we’ll be marking the resurrection and celebrating that as best we can.
I’m looking forward to it; the chance to walk through the range of emotions that span from death to life.
However, we aren’t marking the day in between. And we’re probably not the only church. After some brief and limited research, evangelical Christians haven’t really celebrated Holy Saturday. This isn’t a criticism so much as an observation. The great in-between day isn’t mentioned in great detail in the Bible. Nor has our oldest liturgy spoken much about it. The Apostle’s Creed does mention that ‘He descended to hell.’ Book after book has been written about what Christ did between death and resurrection, this isn’t where that discussion is happening today. I’m happy to leave that one until I meet Jesus in heaven.
It’s one thing for us not to know what to do on Holy Saturday, but it’s another entirely to wonder what the disciples did on the actual Saturday in question.
Can you imagine following a guy who claims to be the Son of God, with whom he has a unique, personal relationship; and who also claims to be the fulfilment of centuries of prophecies, in other words, the one who Israel had been waiting for since the fall of humanity? Me neither.
Can you then imagine watching that same guy get whipped to shreds, humiliated and butchered on a couple of planks and buried into someone else’s grave? Me neither.
Disbelief. Shock. Denial. Numb. Bereft of purpose. Those are traits commonly associated with the first stage of grief; traits probably common among the disciples that night. “What just happened?” “This has to be a dream.” “What do we do now?”
Saturday morning: the Sabbath. After a disorienting 10 seconds of waking up, it all comes flooding back. Pain. Guilt. Emotional exhaustion. Self-blame. Lethargy. “… but he promised.” “Why did I deny him?” “What if I had have said this, or done that?” Stage two of grief; replaying what happened over, and over, and over again in your mind.
Saturday was a quiet day. For the last three years the disciples enjoyed the presence of God. They watched Jesus walk and talk with authority, with purpose. They were beginning to understand what the ‘age to come’ meant. But now, deafening silence. Where was God now? Was there a darker day in all of human history? Was there a longer day?
Maybe there is nothing physical to report from the Saturday. But that doesn’t make the day obsolete. Holy Saturday is the day of doubting. Maybe it should be renamed Doubtful Saturday? The disciple of my namesake is known for his doubtful ways, but on Saturday, who wouldn’t?
For many of us, we find ourselves at something resembling Holy Saturday quite often. And that’s ok. Questions come. Doubts come. Rest assured that everyone who believes in God has, at one or more – definitely more – times, questioned whether God fell asleep and forgot to do His thing.
It could be the deterioration of relationships close to you. Or maybe it’s the loss of a job/livelihood. It could be the untimely, unexpected death of someone close. We all experience it at different times and in different intensities. And when those days comes, we have doubts.
I wonder though, if it’s a coincidence that Holy Saturday fell on the Jewish Sabbath? This is, after all, the day we are to rest; to enjoy family and the fruits of our labour. It’s the time where we aren’t required to produce anything but enjoy the restoration that comes through being in Christ Jesus.
The best thing about Holy Saturday, is that it’s a finite time. We know that Easter Sunday follows. For the disciples, they new Jesus had risen through being scared out of their wits as he showed up in their locked room. From there, they were charged to make disciples across the world, and given the Holy Spirit.
Christianity hinges on Good Friday and Easter Sunday; the cross and the resurrection. But for many of us, Easter Saturday is important too. It’s important to embrace the doubts and questions that come. It’s also important to know that it has a dusk.
The night was dark, the day was long, but it wasn’t the last word.
This article has been amended to correct some inaccuracies regarding the tomb Jesus was placed in.