Holy Saturday - The Day Between
Holy Saturday is when Jesus lay dead in the tomb between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It is also known as the Sabbath of Holy Week, as it commemorates the day that Jesus rested from his work of salvation. As we await the celebration of his resurrection, what can we learn from this day of silence and darkness?
The Bible does not give us many details about what happened on Holy Saturday, but we can infer some things from the Gospel accounts. On Friday evening, Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus' body, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a new tomb that he had cut out of the rock (Matthew 27:57-60). He rolled a large stone to seal the entrance of the tomb and then departed. Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James and Joseph, were sitting opposite the tomb, watching where he was laid (Mark 15:47).
The next day, which was the Sabbath, the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate and asked him to secure the tomb lest the disciples steal the body and claim that Jesus had risen from the dead. Pilate agreed and sent a guard of soldiers to seal the tomb and watch over it (Matthew 27:62-66).
Meanwhile, Jesus' followers were in shock and grief. They had hoped that he was the Messiah who would redeem Israel, but now their hopes were dashed. They did not understand that he had to suffer and die and then rise again on the third day, as he had foretold them (Luke 24:6-7). They were afraid of the Jewish leaders who had arrested and killed Jesus, so they locked themselves in a room (John 20:19). They also observed the Sabbath rest, according to the commandment (Luke 23:56).
But what about Jesus? Where was he on Holy Saturday? The Apostles' Creed tells us, "He descended into hell." The word "hell" here does not mean the place of eternal punishment for the wicked, but rather the realm of the dead, also called Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek. This was where all people went after death, regardless of their moral state. It was a place of darkness, silence, and separation from God.
Some biblical passages suggest that Jesus did not remain passive or inactive on Holy Saturday; rather, he went to proclaim his victory over sin and death to those in Sheol. For example, Peter writes that Jesus "went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison" (1 Peter 3:19). Paul writes that Jesus "descended into the lower parts of the earth" and that he "led a host of captives" when he ascended to heaven (Ephesians 4:9-10). Jesus himself had compared his time in the tomb to Jonah's time in the belly of the fish (Matthew 12:40). And Jonah had prayed from inside Sheol, saying, "you brought up my life from the pit" (Jonah 2:2,6).
These passages indicate that Jesus did not go to Sheol as a victim but as a conqueror. He did not go to suffer more but to liberate those who were waiting for his salvation. He did not go to leave us alone, but to open the way to heaven for us.
Therefore, on Holy Saturday, we are called to wait with faith and hope. We are called to remember that God's silence does not mean his absence, that his hiddenness does not mean his indifference. We are called to trust that God is at work even when we cannot see him, even when we cannot feel him. We are called to believe that nothing can separate us from His love, not even death.
As we meditate on these mysteries, let us pray:
O God, Creator of heaven and earth:
Grant that as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in
the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath,
so we may await with him
the coming of the third day,
and rise with him
to newness of life;
who now lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
forever and ever.
...Sunday's still coming!