Holy Saturday

Preaching and Worship Resources about Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday is the Sabbath between Jesus' crucifixion on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

In Scripture

The Pharisees guard Jesus' body "The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, `Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, "After three days I will rise again." Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, "He has been raised from the dead," and the last deception would be worse than the first.' Pilate said to them, `You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.' So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone" (Matt. 27:62 - 66).

Joseph of Arimathea buries Jesus' body "When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where the body was laid" (Mark 15:42 - 47).

Jesus' body laid in the tomb "Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment" (Luke 23:50 - 56).

The new tomb "Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb" (John 19:41 - 20:1).

Points to Ponder

Does Holy Saturday seem "an empty space," or "a nonevent," or "a brief, inert void?" Perhaps. Good Friday's darkness has passed, but Easter's light has not yet begun to shine. Matthew and Mark say that Jesus' last word from the cross was the horrifying cry of abandonment: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Then he died. Luke says that Jesus' followers were "sad." "We had hoped," one of them says — "we had hoped that [Jesus] was the one to redeem Israel" (Luke 24:21). The confession sounds desolate. "We had hoped." But there you are. The Romans had simply crossed out the disciples' hope.

The "chief priests and Pharisees" tell Pilate they are worried about security in the area of Jesus' tomb But could they be entirely successful? The only action recorded in the gospels between Good Friday and Easter is the one Matthew tells about. "The `chief priests and Pharisees' tell Pilate they are worried about security in the area of Jesus' tomb. Might his disciples try to steal his body and then claim he had risen? And Pilate speaks to the ages with words of utter irony: `Go, make it as secure as you can.'" That's the moment, says Frederick Buechner, for a Rembrandt painting of these aging men's faces Make it as secure as you can. Let Rembrandt show us "their faded old eyes wide with bewilderment, their mouths hanging loose. . . . As secure as you can. But how secure is that? Their lips move but no sound comes. God knows they have good reason to be afraid." There's something more than a hoax for them to fear. Something else is gathering in the Judean air — some oxygen intoxicant, some terrifying possibility they can hardly let themselves face.

Meanwhile, Holy Saturday is a Sabbath, a time for resting from the hardest work since creation. Some Christians believe atonement must have been even harder work than creation. In creation God could start from scratch. There was no existing medium God had to grapple with. But in atonement the Son of God had to go up against centuries of arrogance, neglect, abuse, cowardice, cruelty, and deception, all mounded up and hardened and weighted with the corruption of millions. How could a single person, even a divine one, shoulder that load and make amends for it? It's almost as if Holy Saturday is a necessary time for pause, for catching the breath, before the next and glorious phase of the work of God. This is a Sabbath of "resting from" but also of "resting for."

The "Crucifixus" of Bach's Mass in B Minor is an E-minor lament, heavy with sorrow and loss. But then, to make us sit up, Bach unexpectedly ends the movement in G major. In his genius, Bach does not then start the following "Et Resurrexit" with music. No, "Et Resurrexit" begins with a beat-and-a-half rest that may be the most eloquent silence Bach ever wrote into a score. For a beat and a half, the silence fills with expectation until trumpets and timpani burst out in a D-Major celebration of Jesus striding out of his tomb. The great pause between Bach's two movements is Holy Saturday. We Christians know what's coming. Holy Saturday is all about preparation. Waiting for Sunday now feels like vigil. Saturday has a vigilant feel because we know it's getting to be time for the timpanist to set up and the trumpet players to pull their instruments from their cases. D major is almost here.


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.