In Holy Week, we remember Maundy Thursday and an upper room where Jesus shares a meal with his friends and shows his love by washing their feet. On Good Friday, we remember the suffering and death of Jesus Christ on the cross. On Easter, we celebrate a risen Savior. But on Holy Saturday, we have a tomb. And the tomb at this point in the story isn’t yet empty.
Holy Saturday is the silence between the “It is finished” of Good Friday and the “He is Risen” of Easter Sunday. It is the darkness between the glaring exposure and suffering of Christ on the cross and the shining glory of Christ risen.
Good Friday remembers the cross. Easter Sunday the empty tomb. Holy Saturday remembers the burial of Jesus. It isn’t the agonizing pain and sharp suffering of the cross, nor the exuberant joy and hearty celebration of the resurrection. It is the quiet, uninspiring, soldier-guarded grave that we remember.
Holy Saturday is the kind of day when we might find ourselves praying in the spirit of those lines from Psalm 77. Listen to the psalmist’s honest wrestlings as he prays in what he calls “the day of trouble.”
6“Let me remember my song in the night;
let me meditate in my heart.”
Then my spirit made a diligent search:
7 “Will the Lord spurn forever,
and never again be favorable?
8 Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah
Holy Saturday welcomes us to bring questions like these before God in prayer. There is nothing in our hearts or minds that is not perfectly safe to bring into the presence of God.
In that psalm, we hear him declaring:
“I will remember…”
“I will ponder…”
“I will meditate…” (on God’s wonderful deeds)
But first he asks his hard questions prayerfully. He speaks from what is actually in his heart and on his mind. Holy Saturday is our chance to do the same, even as we will remember resurrection in just a few more hours.
Back to the disciples. Imagine Holy Saturday from their perspective. This is a day when all hope is lost. It’s an empty day for them. It’s a day of deep grief and lost hope.
The gospels have much to say of the Good Friday and the Resurrection Sunday story, but precious little to say about Holy Saturday. Matthew tells the story of the chief priests and Pharisees meeting with Pilate to warn him that Jesus’ disciples might try to steal his body to create an illusion of resurrection. (27:62-66). And so Pilate gives them guards to see to it that doesn’t happen.
Luke happens to mention this: “On the Sabbath [the disciples] rested according to the commandment (23:56b).” What else could they do?
And in the reading from the gospel of John, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus take the body of Christ, prepare it for burial and place it in the tomb.
Maybe there aren’t many Holy Saturday services out there because we want to feel something: pain or excitement. Holy Saturday is a day when the disciples live not in the sharp pain of Good Friday, but the dull ache of grief and loss. The grave is, obviously, a lifeless place.
On this Holy Saturday, it may help to reflect on places that feel tomblike for you. It may be a literal death. It may be a hope or dream that has died. Perhaps it’s a season when zest for life has waned a bit.
Perhaps today we can let these places in our lives be buried with Him, resting and waiting for the power of God’s Spirit to raise Him (and us) up. Perhaps this day can be the dark backdrop against which the bright joy of Easter stands out.