A theological reflection on Holy Saturday
By Mark Kitzman – Director, External Relations
Christians have always had so much to say and celebrate on both Good Friday and Easter Sunday. But very little, if anything at all, is ever said about the Saturday in between.
Truth is, we’re not sure what to do with Saturday. We know the agony of Friday is finished, and we know the triumph of Sunday is coming. It’s not Friday anymore… but it’s not Sunday yet.
The Gospels themselves hardly mention any happenings on the Saturday (the lone exceptions being Matthew 27:62-66 and Mark 16:1, which are notably brief). So, it’s understandable we skip right from the darkness of Friday afternoon to the glory of Sunday morning. And it’s worth mentioning that Christians in the West don’t deal very well with uncomfortable spaces, so we’re often quite eager to move on to the happy bit of the story.
But when we don’t pause to sit in the space between the cross and the empty tomb and reflect, we are missing out on something so formative. Saturday has a lot to teach us about the Christian life if we pay attention.
Although the Gospel writers don’t tell us much about Saturday, they do provide some key details about Sunday that give us a pretty good idea of what was going on the twenty-four hours prior.
The disciples’ hopes were dashed.
Luke recounts the Resurrected Jesus’ appearing to two disciples on the road to Emmaus on Sunday (24:13-34). While talking about everything that had just happened on the Friday, Jesus himself (who they were kept from recognizing) casually strolls up and asks what they’re discussing.
Their body language is telling: “They stopped short, sadness written across their faces” (vs. 17b). They proceed to speak of Jesus’ mighty miracles and teachings, but how the religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death. “We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel” (vs. 21).
In short, things had not gone according to plan. Jesus had not overthrown the Romans in a glorious display of power, but instead had been snuffed out by them. All the disciples’ hopes and dreams for the future had been dashed when Jesus hung lifeless on a Roman cross.
How could this be? How had they backed the wrong horse?
Everything was supposed to change, but nothing had changed. God’s chosen people were still under Rome’s thumb. In their minds, there was nothing left to do but despair.
Saturday was no doubt filled with a massive sense of disorientation as these men and women who had given up everything to follow Jesus futilely tried coming to grips with all the ways their lives had just blown apart.
The disciples’ fears were overwhelming.
John plainly tells us, “That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders” (20:19). Jesus was dead, and they feared they were next. Everyone knew they were his followers. Best to hunker down and wait for the dust of Passover week to settle before making a break for it.
Fear had gripped them hard. It took the Risen Jesus appearing in their midst for them to even begin to have enough courage to go out in public again. On Saturday they must have certainly been smothered by fear and relentless thoughts of self-preservation.
Where do we turn now?
When I think about that Saturday and the despair and fear those first followers experienced it strikes me how much it mirrors the reality of our world. We make good plans, but they get thwarted. We have dreams, but tragedy steals them away. The ‘bad’ guys win way too often. Bad things happen to ‘good’ people. Those in power exploit and oppress those who aren’t. It’s easy to despair. We are prone to fear.
We live in a Saturday world. The brokenness and sin Jesus took open himself on Friday is still all over the place.
My mind immediately goes to the Middle East where girls in Iran are being given as child brides and Christians are often arrested and sometimes killed for their faith.
I think of women in Afghanistan who the Taliban will not allow to work or even leave their homes.
I’m picturing child refugees living in camps in Lebanon, displaced from their homeland and denied the right of an education.
What are we to make of this? How can we possibly have the hope of Sunday in a Saturday world?
First, we need to look back on Friday at what Jesus accomplished on the cross.
The gospel tells us that God became a human being in the person of Jesus and entered our ‘Saturday’ reality. He experienced firsthand the brokenness we live in everyday. The Bible doesn’t give us a God who is distant and uninvolved in our suffering but who enters into our suffering and suffers with us and for us.
Saturday is an opportunity for us to remember we are not alone in our suffering. God is with us in the ‘Saturday’ moments of life.
But we also need to look ahead to Sunday at the empty tomb. The resurrection of Jesus means the new creation has begun. The future of all things being made new has started to invade the present. God is redeeming the entire creation and will one day return in Jesus to put it all to rights. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “Death itself will work backwards” and as J. R. R. Tolkien wrote, “All sad things will become untrue.”
Saturday is an opportunity for us to anticipate the glorious redemption, healing, and renewal of everything.
And as the truth of what Jesus has already done (Friday) and what He will return to complete (Sunday is the preview of the New Heaven and New Earth in Revelation 21) it will comfort us and fill us with the hope and love needed to look around at those who know nothing but Saturday.
The Christian calling is to enter into the suffering of others by walking alongside them and sacrificially serving them in love (Friday). And as we do so, the gospel becomes tangible and God’s future hope invades their lives in the present to heal and resurrect (Sunday).
This is the Good News SAT-7 is broadcasting 24/7 to millions in the Middle East region. And it is the Good News every follower of Jesus is called to live out each day.