Compared to Good Friday and Easter Sunday very little attention has been given to Holy Saturday, the day when Christ lay in his tomb.
Much commentary on this day has focussed on the line in the Apostles Creed “he descended into hell” and Christ’s so-called “Harrowing of Hell”. My opinion of these teachings can be found in the links below.1)http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/churchman/102-03_240.pdf and http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/churchman /102-04_303.pdf
I was recently speaking to an earnest younger pastor about a new ministry venture and his need to let go of responsibility for its success. We agreed that it is impossible to add or subtract from the finished work of Christ and that in Jesus everything God ever intended for this universe has already come to completion (Col 2:9-10).
Being on the brink of Easter thoughts of the victory of the resurrection came readily to mind.
But as we prayed together I surprisingly sensed something about Holy Saturday; it was an impression of the Holy Spirit and the Father watching over Jesus in the tomb. This brought to mind a vision once shared by a previous mentor in which he saw the glory of God hovering over Christ as he lay in the grave fulfilling the promise; “you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.” (Ps 16:10; Acts 2:27; 13:35).
If we put ourselves in the position of the first disciples on Holy Saturday we will share their emptiness, confusion, fear and despair;”we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel…” (Luke 24:21 cf. John 20:19). This sort of grieving for a departed Jesus confuses the sinners’ anticipation of judgement upon death with Christ’s own positive post-mortem experience (Heb 9:27). Jesus’ own promise to the dying thief on the adjacent cross was unflinchingly positive; “he said, v42“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” v43 And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”” (Luke 23:42-43).
The promise of the presence of God in the beauty of his Garden was pledged to a man who recognised that Jesus was Lord, even over death (cf. Gen 3:8). Whilst Jesus had endured the utmost agony of separation from God on the cross, at the point of his death he was once more in conscious communion with his Father; “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.” (Mark 15:34; Luke 23:46).
The psalmist who predicted that the Lord’s body would not suffer corruption in the grave went on to prophesy of the post-mortem experience of Jesus; “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (16:11 Acts 2:28). Jesus’ spirit abided in great joy over Holy Saturday as it rested in the Father’s love. Meanwhile his broken entombed body was in no way abandoned.
As part of their preaching of the gospel both Peter and Paul emphasised that the dead body of Jesus never saw decay; “you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.” (Acts 2:27; 13:35). The incorruptibility of Christ’s flesh was clear that Jesus as the perfectly obedient Son was complete victor over the degrading power of death and worthy of immortality. Christ has broken the bounds of our finitude; ““it was not possible for him to be held by the pangs of death.”” (Acts 2:24 cf. 1 Cor 15:50).
The imperishable character of Jesus corpse flowed from the intimate protective presence of God’s Spirit in the grave. The Spirit who hovered over the formless chaos of creation at its beginning and watched over Israel in her wilderness journey preserved the entombed body of the Lord with his creative power (Gen 1:2; Deut 32:10-11). As surely as the Lord promised Jeremiah, ““I am watching over my word to perform it.””, the Father’s glory watched over the body of the slain Word eagerly anticipating his impending resurrection (Jer 1:12).
Faith not Sight
Those who saw Jesus’ broken body brought down from the cross and laid to rest behind a stone could not conceive he was victorious over death. They did not comprehend that the Lord always triumphs through brokenness. It was as the stranger took bread and broke it that his companions on the road to Emmaus recognised this was Jesus, and it is through broken bread that he offers us his immortality at the Lord’s Supper (Luke 24:30; 1 Cor 11:24).
When Paul teaches; “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” (2 Cor 4:10-12), he testifies that an outwardly broken body is sustained and inwardly renewed by “the imperishable…word of God” (2 Cor 4:16; 1 Pet 1:23).
The apparent delay between Friday and Sunday, between the death of a vision and its resurrection, does not mean defeat. To accept this is to live in the Great Sabbath of Christ.
In the Father’s world “out of sight” does not mean “out of mind”. Even when hidden from sight in a tomb Jesus was still saving us just as truly as by his public death and visible resurrection. God’s verdict of unlimited approval had secretly been placed upon his entombed Son when all others had judged him to have failed his life mission.
At times others have judged us as not reaching our full potential, and we even think this about ourselves, but meditating on Holy Saturday shifts our frame of reference. Simply recognising that it is the Lord of all who was placed in the tomb for us is a sign that we are a part of his new creation.
Whilst the fullness of the new creation is yet to be fully revealed that Christ’s enjoyment of the Great Sabbath is ours to be entered into by faith now. No amount of seriousness can add to or take away what Jesus has achieved for us.
We need to pause and allow the glorious Holy Spirit who hovers over us to impart an awareness of the sheer stillness that gave the spirit of our Lord such rich pleasure on the first Holy Saturday so long ago (1 Pet 4:14).
This uncanny restedness is a sheer supernatural gift and the sort of inner healing needed by a striving Church today.
Christ has triumphed.