Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday April 16, 2022


The Descensus
An early 12th-century Russian fresco of the Harrowing of Hell, or the “Descensus Christi.”  The Savior stands upon the smashed “Gates of Hell,” having triumphantly entered the world of spirits while his body still lay in the tomb.  He is drawing one of the deceased saints — probably Adam — out of captivity, while others of the righteous (e.g., the kings on the right) await their salvation.  (Wikimedia Commons public domain image)




If you’re perhaps wondering why the news of the atonement and resurrection of Christ is so very, very important, you might watch this eight-minute segment from CNN.  If you can get through it without at least coming close to tearing up a bit, your heart is even harder than mine:


“Some Russians think images of these killed children are fake. Keilar shows they are not: In the wake of the Russian war in Ukraine, many children have lost their lives. CNN’s Brianna Keilar names some of the victims and shares their stories.”




Today, which marks the Saturday between the Savior’s Friday crucifixion and atonement, on the one hand — that is, Good Friday — and his resurrection sometime on Sunday morning — that is, Easter Sunday — is worthy of reflection in its own right.  Latter-day Saints know that Jesus did not simply sleep unconsciously on that day, awaiting his emergence from the tomb.  Instead, as President Joseph F. Smith saw on 3 October 1918 in his great vision of the redemption of the dead, the Savior went and ministered among the spirits of those who had died before him.  Significantly, he did so on the Jewish Sabbath, plainly exemplifying one kind of work — preaching the Gospel and saving souls — that is acceptable to the Lord on the Sabbath Day.


“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:  By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” (1 Peter 3:18–20)

“For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” (1 Peter 4:6.)



Phillips Brooks is most famous as the composer of the well-known Christmas carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”  But this verse is very nice, too:


Tomb, thou shalt not hold Him longer;
Death is strong, but Life is stronger;
Stronger than the dark, the light;
Stronger than the wrong, the right . . .

Phillips Brooks, “An Easter Carol”




Over the past few days, I’ve made several recommendations of things to read, to do, and to hear for this Easter season.  Last night, we ourselves met with a very small reading group to which we belong.  This time, though, we didn’t discuss a book.  We shared thoughts about Good Friday and Easter and about what the events that these holidays commemorate mean to us.


There’s a very great deal of good music for this season.  For example, my wife and I are going to try to fit the Easter portion of Handel’s Messiah in, and to listen to Robert Cundick’s wonderful The Redeemer: A Sacred Service of Music.  (For the Interpreter Foundation’s short film on the late Brother Cundick, which actually incorporates small portions of The Redeemer, see here.).  And we’ve just returned from the very beautiful George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City, where we thoroughly enjoyed a matinee performance of Rob Gardner’s magnificent Lamb of God.  (We followed it up with a small shared meal of Wienerschnitzel, Bratwurst, Rotkohl, Spätzle, and Sauerkraut at Siegfried’s Delicatessen, nearby.)


Some families, I know, like to watch Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments at this time of the year.  Personally, I would probably favor William Wyler’s Ben Hur.  Or, perhaps even more, Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ.  Or the remarkable 2016 film Risen, with Joseph Fiennes in the lead role.


In a comment on this blog, Carlos Lopez offered a good recommendation upon which some might want to act.  With his kind permission, I pass it on here:


I just wanted to share one of my favorite Easter activities which is to watch Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth. It’s free on YouTube. It’s actually a six-hour mini-series made for TV in 1977. It covers the entire life of the Savior. For Easter viewing, you can fast forward to the Last Supper until the last scene where (after His resurrection) He says goodbye to His apostles before He ascends to heaven–a very touching scene where Peter and John the Beloved rests their heads on His shoulders and beg Him not to leave them.

The scourging and crucifixion are not nearly as violent and dramatic as Mel Gibson’s The Passion, but they are still quite dramatic and moving. Some movie portrayals of the scourging and the carrying of the cross are so toned down that they, in my opinion, don’t create the love and empathy that should be felt.

It is an All-Star cast with some of the world’s best and most famous actors: Lawrence Olivier, Anthony Quinn, James Earl Jones, Peter Ustinov, Christopher Plummer, James Mason, Ernest Borgnine, Olivia Hussey (Mary), Anne Bancroft and Rod Steiger.

Another scene that I love is when the Savior, played by Robert Powell, enters the house of sinners and preaches the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It’s Shakespearean in acting and script and, or course, told in a way that you would expect the Greatest Story Teller ever to tell it.


Whatever else you do, though, please don’t let the feast of Christ’s resurrection pass as merely yet another Sunday — let alone as simply yet another ordinary day.  And, while there is nothing at all wrong with Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies, please don’t permit those to dominate Easter to the exclusion of its very reason for being a holiday, a holy day, in the first place.  Pass on the good news.


Easter may seem boring to children, and it is blessedly unencumbered by the silly fun that plagues Christmas. Yet it contains the one thing needful for every human life: the good news of Resurrection.  (Frederica Mathewes-Green)



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