Saturday, April 11, 2009

Holy Saturday


April 11, 2009

Matthew 27.57-66

Now it might seem strange to be gathering here this morning. Not many of us usually even think of coming to church on Holy Saturday morning. After all that we’ve been through liturgically and all that we will go through liturgically, it’s going to end up being a roller-coaster ride emotionally. But maybe that is why I love this liturgy so much.

We gather here today in a church stripped of everything symbolic. Even the cross lies before us, veiled in black. The altar is stripped. The aumbry, that held just a few days ago the Body and Blood of Jesus, is now empty, its door wide open. The sanctuary light, which gently reminds us of the holy Presence of Jesus in that Bread and Wine, is extinguished and has been taken away.

For those of us who delight in the Presence of God—who strive and long for the Presence of God—who find our purpose and meaning in the Presence of God—today is a bleak day. That Presence seems…gone.

For now, time stands still. We are caught in this breathless moment—between the excruciating death of Jesus on the cross yesterday and the glorious Light that is about dawn on us tonight and tomorrow morning. For now—in this moment—we are here.

And Jesus…Where is Jesus? We imagine his body lying there in the dark stillness of the tomb, wrapped and broken and bloodied. But where is Jesus?

Well, one explanation can be found in the fact that today we commemorate a tradition in the Church called the Harrowing of Hell. The belief was that, on this day, Jesus descended to that place where all the dead who died before Christ went. There, he broke open the doors of hell and released those waiting for him.

One of my favorite images in the icons of the Eastern Orthodox church is the depiction of Jesus descending into hell. In these icons, we see Jesus standing over broken-open tombs. He is pulling a man and woman up from the depths of hell. This man and woman are, of course, Adam and Eve. It’s a beautiful image—the new Adam—the Adam who undoes all that the old Adam did—has not even allowed Adam and Eve to disappear, to die without hope. Even now, the new Adam, takes hold of the Old Adam, the old Eve, and lifts them up. He brings them to the glory he brings with him.

In a way, we can see our own faces on the faces of the old Adam and the old Eve. In a sense, it us that Jesus has come to and is lifting up from our old ways. It is us he lifts up from the Hades of our lives. Or, as the Eastern Orthodox Church sings on this day:


When You did descend to death, O Life Immortal, You did slay hell with the splendor of Your Godhead, and when from the depths You did raise the dead, all the Powers of Heaven cried out, O Giver of Life, Christ our God, glory to You!

The message for us this morning is that, as bleak as seems, there is more going on than meets the eye. Yes, Jesus has died. He truly died—he truly tasted death and partook of it fully. And we too must die as well. We too will taste death and partake in it fully. We too will experience our own Holy Saturday morning. Sometimes we will experience the equivalent many times in our lives as we lose those we love to death, when all will seem bleak and hopeless.

But the fact is that, not even death can separate us from Christ. That place wherein we find ourselves, lost, lifeless, without hope, is the place in which we cannot escape Christ. In the hells of our lives—and we all have them—in the hells of our lives, even there Jesus can come. In those places in which we seem so far separated from God, from the love that God gives us, from the light God shines upon us, even there Jesus will come to us. No matter how far separated we might seem from Jesus, Jesus will cover that great distance and come to us.

Even there. Even there, he will come for us. Even there he will find us and take us to himself. Even there, he will even die, like us, to bring us back to a life that will never end. That is what Holy Saturday is all about and that is certainly why I love this day.

So, on this Holy Saturday, when all seems bleak and lost and without purpose, remember: There is more going on beneath the surface than we might originally think. Jesus is at work even in those moments when we think he might not be. The Presence of God is with us even when it seems furthest from us. In the darkest moments of our lives, the bright dawn is about to break. Let us wait patiently and breathlessly for it.

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