“There came such a lovely sense… of what it means to be “buried with Christ” – not only dead but buried – “put to silence in the grave” – ‘I can’ and ‘I can’t put to silence side by side – the lovely silence and stillness of ‘a grave beside Him with God’s seal on the stone and His watch set, that nothing but the risen life of Jesus may come forth. ‘Give me a death in which there shall be no life, and a life in which there shall be no death’ – that was a prayer of the Arab saint, Abed-El-Kader – I came upon it again the other day. Is it not wonderful?” 6 October 1895
I was a bit mystified when I read that Lilias considered “Easter Eve the most beloved day of all the year.” Easter, yes! But Easter Eve. Why?
Easter Eve – Holy Saturday – has been, for me, one of the busiest days of the year, second only to Christmas Eve. In the early years with young children, it was the day to prepare Easter baskets, to color (and hide!) eggs, to prepare for the various celebrations of Easter: Easter Sunrise Service, brunch, a morning of glorious music-filled worship followed by an afternoon of friends to continue the celebration of Resurrection Sunday. In the later years, children off at school or on their own, they were “replaced” with other people’s children. (And, we discovered, our young adult “children” still expected Easter baskets!) Needless to say, in the home of a minister, this part of the preparation was a solo act.
Furthermore, the observation of the liturigical calendar came later in my life. We skipped from Good Friday straight to Resurrection Sunday. Somehow, Holy Saturday got lost in the crush of other things. The lovely silence and stillness of the grave – the holy hush – was vitually passed over in the noise and clutter of preparation for Easter.
What happened during the “holy hush” of Saturday – between the Cross and the empty grave? Week after week, I mouth the words of Confession of Faith, “He descended into hell…” What does that mean? No theologian am I, and certainly this is one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith. But this we know: Something happened between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. And it involved descent: death and burial.
No, I can’t begin to comprehend what took place during that holy hush but I do know that it was somehow profoundly connected with us – and, in turn, we with Him. Ferguson McDonald wrote: “When Jesus was buried, so also were we in him. This spiritual union is symbolized in Christian baptism.” And it follows, that we who were “buried with Him,” likewise will rise with Him to new life: resurrection life.
An “Ancient Homily for Great Sabbath” sums these hours:
“Today a great silence reigns on earth,
a great silence and a great stillness.
A great silence because the King is asleep.
‘The earth trembled and is still because
God has fallen asleep in the flesh…'”
I will busy myself during Holy Saturday – but I will make time to stop for a moment and quiet my heart. And remember. Remember the hours that separate the Cross and the empty tomb… the hours that Jesus lay buried “in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4)
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
and the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever. Amen.
Collect for Holy Saturday: Book of Common Prayer
Watercolor: Travel Journal 1895