by The Rev. Randy Asburry
Holy Thursday brought a small burst of joy. As we finished Lent and entered the Holy Three Days, we heard the readings of the Passover, the Lord’s Supper, and Jesus washing the grimy feet of His disciples.
Good Friday drew our focus to the blessed Cross on which our Savior, the Son of God and perfect Man, suffered and died for our forgiveness, life, and salvation. As someone told me after last night’s Good Friday Chief Service, “It struck the right balance between sadness and triumph.” That’s especially true because we heard St. John’s account of the Passion (and this year we added choir portions during the reading), venerated the Cross, heard the Reproaches, and ended the service by singing the somber yet victorious sounding hymn, “Sing My Tongue the Glorious Battle” (LSB 454).
But what shall we do with today, “Holy Saturday,” the seventh day of Holy Week?
First, let’s recall how Day Six led into Day Seven at the first creation. On Day Six “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Then, after reaching this crowning achievement of His creation, God rested on Day Seven.
Holy Week follows the same pattern. On Day Six of Holy Week – a.k.a. Good Friday – God the Son recreated humankind, male and female, and restored all people to His image. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15). Through His innocent suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ has restored us and will restore us to His perfect image. “[We] have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10). Yes, because of our Lord’s work of re-creation and restoration, we are attaining “to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
Second, let’s recall the first Seventh Day. “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (Genesis 2:2-3). The first Seventh Day was hallowed and set aside for rest because God was done with His works of creation. “Holy Saturday,” then, is a day of rest – the day when our crucified Lord was done – “It is finished” (John 19:30) – with His work of saving us and rested in the tomb and thus hallowed the graves of His saints.
Today is a day of rest and restoration. Not quite the same kind of day most people have in mind with “To Do” lists chuck full of coloring Easter eggs, scrambling to prepare that Easter dinner, and rushing to the store to find that perfect Easter outfit for tomorrow! The words of Hebrews 4:9-10 provide a nice remedy for our “Holy Saturday” busy-ness: “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.”
It’s quite salutary and beneficial to sit back and rest, and let God do the work of His restoration! After all, when this day of rest is ended, and as we hold vigil this evening, we will rejoice and revel in God’s new creation, His Easter creation, His restoration to life in His Son Jesus Christ. As Luther teaches us to sing: “You shall observe the worship day / That peace may fill your home, and pray, / And put aside the work you do, / So that God may work in you” (LSB 581:4).
And what work does God work in you on this Holy Saturday? Here’s an ancient homily entitled “The Lord’s Descent into Hell” to answer that question:
What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled. Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son. The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: “My Lord be with you all.” And Christ in reply says to Adam: “And with your spirit.” And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.” “I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.” “I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.” (quoted in For All the Saints, vol. III, p. 1037)
God bless you and keep you – rested and restored – on this Holy Saturday!