tomb

What is Holy Saturday?

The Passion Week provides diverse theological emotions for the people of God. Palm Sunday commences with the entrance of a divine King riding on a donkey. He comes in ancient royal transportation. The royal procession illicit shouts of benediction, but concludes only a few days later with shouts of crucifixion as the king is hung on a tree.

The Church also celebrates Maundy Thursday as our Messiah provides a new commandment to love one another just as He loved us. The newness of the commandments is not an indication that love was not revealed prior (Lev. 19), but that love is now incarnate in the person of love, Jesus Christ. We then proceed to sing of the anguish of that Good Friday as our blessed Lord is humiliated by soldiers and scolded by the offensive words of the religious leaders of the day. As he walks to the Mount, his pain testifies to Paul’s words that he suffered even to the point of death (Phil. 2)But hidden in this glaringly distasteful mixture of blood, vinegar, and bruised flesh is the calmness of the day after our Lord’s crucifixion.

After fulfilling the great Davidic promise in Psalm 22, our Lord rests from his labors in the tomb. Whatever may have happened in those days before his resurrection, we know that Christ’s work as the unblemished offering of love was finished.

The Church calls this day Blessed Sabbath or more commonly, Holy Saturday. On this day, our Lord reposed (rested) from his accomplishments. Many throughout history also believe that Holy Saturday is a fulfillment of Moses’ words:

God blessed the seventh day. This is the blessed Sabbath. This is the day of rest, on which the only-begotten Son of God rested from all His works . . .(Gen. 2:2)

The Church links this day with the creation account. On day seven Yahweh rested and enjoyed the fruit of his creation. Jesus Christ also rested in the rest given to him by the Father and enjoyed the fruits of the New Creation he began to establish and would be brought to light on the next day.

As Alexander Schmemann observed:

Now Christ, the Son of God through whom all things were created, has come to restore man to communion with God. He thereby completes creation. All things are again as they should be. His mission is consummated. On the Blessed Sabbath He rests from all His works.

Holy Saturday is a day of rest for God’s people; a foretaste of the true Rest that comes in the Risen Christ. The calmness of Holy Saturday makes room for the explosion of Easter Sunday. On this day, we remember that the darkness of the grave and the resting of the Son were only temporary for when a New Creation bursts into the scene the risen Lord of glory cannot contain his joy, and so he gives it to us.

Augustine postulates on why the angels were positioned as they were in the tomb

Augustine postulates on why the angels were positioned as they were in the tomb

For look she did, “and saw two angels in white, sitting, the one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.” Why is it that one was sitting at the head, and the other at the feet? Was it, since those who in Greek are called angels are in Latin nuntii [in English, news-bearers], that in this way they signified that the gospel of Christ was to be preached from head to foot, from the beginning even to the end? a

  1. St. Augustine: Homilies on the Gospel of John; Homilies on the First Epistle of John; Soliloquies  (back)

Maundy Thursday Meditation

Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin Mandatum. The word comes from Jesus’ command on the Last Supper to love one another just as He loved them (Lk. 24). The message of love is very much central to the Gospel message. Evangelicals are all too quick to set the topic of love aside because it draws our attention away from the more important doctrinal disputes and discussions. Yet Paul and our blessed Lord keep bringing us back to this theme of love. God is love. No, love is not God, but it is very much a foundational aspect of all His actions toward us in Christ Jesus.

Maundy Thursday then becomes a special historical reminder that we are called to be a people of love. Paul refers to the useless instruments in his I Corinthians 13. If love is absent, our actions become like those clanging cymbals. The very core of Paul’s love narrative in I Corinthians occurs in the midst of a dying Church. Paul’s application then is an ecclesiastical command. In the same manner our blessed Lord on the night in which he was betrayed– by that unclean man called Judas– called us to a greater ethic. It was not an ethic foreign to our Lord. What Jesus commands is first and foremost something he has experienced and displayed already. To a greater and cosmic extent, our Lord proves that love in a cross of hate. But this is love personified in the God/Man. By sacrificing Himself on that cruel tree He turned the symbol of hate into one of the most beloved symbols in the Christian life.

It is then very appropriate that our Lord would command us to love as a response to the Last Supper. This is the case because in the Supper we are being re-oriented in our affections for one another. The Supper is a meal of love and Jesus would transform that meal in His resurrection. He would glorify love for His new disciples. He would become Himself the manna from heaven that would bring joy to this newly created community.

Love is most clearly displayed and obeyed in this new fellowship of disciples we call the Church. This is why Maundy Thursday was a significant historical event. It was not just a didactic lesson for the disciples, it was also a meal that sealed the theme of love for this new community that would emerge from the darkness of the tomb.