Holy Saturday? More like “Awful Saturday”

All day I’ve been trying to meditate on what Jesus’ disciples must have been feeling on the day between Good Friday and Easter.

Wait–before you go further, if you don’t think it’s too cheesy, listen to this while you read the rest of the post:


Many Western Christians know how to observe Good Friday and Easter. On Good Friday we call to mind our sins, the last words of Jesus on the cross, the shock and despair his followers experienced… and we try to imagine his suffering, entering in to that as best as we are able.

And then Easter is the party of all parties, when we declare the defeat of death: “Jesus Christ is no longer dead!”

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

But what about Saturday? The disciples didn’t have an “Easter” to look forward to. Jesus was done for, as far as they knew. He was really dead. When he did appear to the apostles, they were terrified and thought they were looking at a ghost. They weren’t even hopeful for resurrection–it hadn’t crossed their mind as an option.

So what some Orthodox call “Bright Saturday” was anything but bright for Jesus’ first followers. It was probably horrible. Awful Saturday. They felt as empty as the tomb was about to be. It was a Sabbath day, too, so they didn’t have any work to distract them. They were quiet. Or maybe they wailed loudly. Phillip Glass (the music you may have clicked on, above) makes a good soundtrack for trying to imagine the emptiness of that day.

In the loss of a loved one, the day of the beloved’s death is painful, and then there’s something about the second day that can be even more painful. The initial shock may begin to give way (but probably not really); reality sets in a little bit more. No, that wasn’t a bad dream–I’m still here, and my loved one really is… gone. Maybe the second day–Saturday–was even more difficult for the disciples than Friday.

At one point today I was thinking about the liminal nature of Saturday in Holy Week: it’s an often unnoticed, unmarked day that is situated between death (Good Friday) and life (Resurrection Sunday). How should I feel? Sad? Penitential? Happy? Pre-happy? Expectant? All or none of the above?

My church tradition has an Easter Vigil service on Saturday night, but just this simple offering for a Holy Saturday liturgy. We “await with him” and “rise with him” in that service’s Collect. This calls to mind Psalm 30:5, which says, “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Our Holy/Bright/Liminal Saturday is a short day, since we know of Resurrection Sunday’s shouts of acclamation and loud Alleluias.

But Saturday for the disciples was not liminal. It was not thought of as perched between death and life. That day and those men and women felt firmly ensconced in the grips of death. The closing anthem in the short Book of Common Prayer liturgy above begins, “In the midst of life we are in death….”

Jesus and Mary

“We are in death.” Death Saturday. Awful Saturday.

Jesus’ followers had no clue what–or Who–was just around the corner….

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