For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
All four of the Gospels cover Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion in great detail. Yet strangely, they are silent about Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, the day Jesus spent in the grave.
Only Luke makes reference to the Sabbath day in one brief line:
“On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.” [Luke 23:56]
If you’re anything like me, you have, at one time or another, wondered about the significance of this day. It’s not just a day to complete the preparations for all the Easter activities, however limited they may be this year. It has much deeper meaning.
A few years ago I came across an ancient homily for Holy Saturday that pondered that silence of the Gospels. I would encourage you to read it in its entirety.
“What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.”From an ancient homily for Holy Saturday (read the entire homily by clicking HERE)
I repeat the question the ancient preacher asked, “What is happening?”
The Apostle’s Creed very perfunctorily states that Jesus “descended into hell” or “descended to the dead,” depending on which version you prefer.
The church historian, Justo González, in his book, The Apostle’s Creed for Today, asserts that the significance of Jesus’ descent into hell can only be understood in the light of the resurrection. “Jesus made his way into the very headquarters of evil, there to defeat it.” [p. 52]
And Paul Tillich, in a sermon titled, “Born in a Grave,” cautions that we shouldn’t pass too quickly over this day, or the phrase he was crucified, died, and was buried.
We often hide the seriousness of the “buried” in the Creed, not only for the Christ, but also for ourselves, by imagining that not we shall be buried, but only a comparatively unimportant part of us, the physical body. That is not what the Creed implies. It is the same subject, Jesus Christ, of Whom it is said that He suffered and that He was buried and that He was resurrected. He was buried, He – His whole personality – was removed from the earth. The same is true of us. We shall die, we – our personality, from which we cannot separate our body as an accidental part – shall be buried.
Only if we take the “buried” in the gospel stories as seriously as this, can we evaluate the Easter stories and can we evaluate the words of the grave-digger, “Who else than the Messiah can be born in a grave?” His question has two aspects. Only the Messiah can bring birth out of death. It is not a natural event. It does not happen every day, but it happens on the day of the Messiah. It is the most surprising, the most profound, and the most paradoxical mystery of existence. Arguments for the immortality of an assumedly better part of us cannot bring life out of the grave. Eternal life is brought about only with the coming of the “new reality”, the eon of the Messiah, which, according to our faith, has already appeared in Jesus as the Christ.Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1948), 166-167
We live in a broken and fallen world, and it is often painful. But because of this day, we know that God has overcome the world and its brokenness. This day reminds us that we are created by God, we are loved, we are valued, and God has moved decisively to end our separation from God once and for all.
On this day, God destroyed the power of death forever and invites and welcomes us into a living relationship that nothing in all creation can ever break – not infirmity, nor suffering, nor death.
And best of all, we will all get to live directly in God’s Presence forever.
That’s good news for all of us, now and for all eternity.
So we wait this day. We wait in silence. We wait in anticipation. We wait for God to complete the work of salvation.
So that with Job and all the faithful, we too can say that “I know that my Redeemer lives.”
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With today’s reflection I have completed my personal 40-day commitment to write each day of Lent. I thank you for your faithful readership and your comments of affirmation. Your words have been a source of encouragement and inspiration for the challenge. My heart is filled with joy and gratitude. I thank God for you.
As of now, I am uncertain as to how often I will post in the weeks to come. It will definitely be less frequently. When I do, I will continue to link my social media sites, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Those of you who are subscribers will receive an email notification.
In the meantime, I wish you a blessed Easter season and let me be the first to say:
“Alleluia! Christ is risen!”