Today’s passage is just a little bit eerie. But Holy Saturday is always that way to me. It’s like the unearthly eye of the storm, in which you feel calm but can’t feel peace because you just know something big is about to happen.
For today, we must allow Jesus to be dead. Not dying, as on Good Friday, which we know how to think about and meditate on. And not alive and resurrected, as on Easter Sunday, which we also know how to meditate on.
But actually dead. It reminds me of the last eternal piano chord that plays on into silence at the end of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” It’s actually rather numbing.
There’s no doubt about it: Jesus is dead. He who said He was the Resurrection and the Life to Martha when Lazarus had died has now died Himself. He who said He had come to give Himself for the life of the world has now had his life snuffed out.
Even the disciples see that it’s all over now. Joseph of Arimathea asks for the body because now it will obviously have to be buried, since it’s a corpse. He wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his new tomb, because that’s what you do with dead bodies. And then he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb and departed because death is for keeps. There would be no escaping the cold hard clutches of death, not even for Jesus.
The enemies of God want to make absolutely sure He’s good and dead and stays that way. So Pilate allows the Jews to make the tomb as secure as they could, sealing the stone and setting a guard over it: as if stone could move by itself or as if the mortified disciples would dare to steal the body and make up a lie about it.
And so today, Jesus is dead and in the tomb. And yet His soul did not die: the early church did not believe in soul sleep but that the spirits of the dead went to Hades. There is a wide range of opinions about exactly where the soul of Jesus went and what He was doing during this time.
And I’m not going to attempt to argue for any of them.
But know this: that on Holy Saturday, it seemed as if all were lost. It seemed as if death had swallowed up life itself. It was as if the death of Jesus turned everyone instantly into zombies, continuing to live for a while but marked for a certain and irreversible death.
All was eerily quiet and still, more so than when all five kids in my house are quiet and still at the same time! That pregnant pause surely seemed like the end of the world as they knew it. All that remained was to live out the remainder of this mortal life.
But something was happening, even during this eerie time. Those who were so certain about the triumph of death over Jesus and the ultimacy of death in our lives were wrong.
That silence you hear isn’t the fade out music that escorts us out of life: it’s the death of the old life and the birth of the new. It’s the transition between death and life.
Some of you may have heard it in this life from time to time. I know I have. You may have experienced it when you were between jobs or between stages in your life, perhaps during a period of engagement. Or, more soberly, you may have experienced it during the times of life when you lose sight of the meaning of life for a time. What you thought was going to happen didn’t and what might happen hasn’t yet, and you walk the earth as a zombie.
But this transition will not last. Even when I appear to be equipoised between death and life, this is a temporary phenomenon, although one that may last an earthly lifetime. I know how the story ends (I’ve peeked at the next page, Matthew 28, but I won’t spoil the ending for you!) This eerie, confusing silence will soon pass, and in its wake something startling this way comes!
Prayer: Grant, O Lord, that as we are baptized into the death of Thy blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ, so by continual mortifying our corrupt affections, we may be buried with Him; and that through the grave, and gate of death, we may pass to our joyful resurrection; for His merits, who died, and was buried, and rose again for us, Thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Collect for Easter Even from The Book of Common Prayer)
Points for Meditation:
- Meditate on the death of Christ as payment for your sins and how serious they must be.
- Meditate on the love of Christ who died for you.
Resolution: I resolve to spend some time today anticipating the joys of the resurrection!
Descent from the Cross – In the U.S. Public Domain