Holy Saturday: A Reflection

Among Holy Week celebrations and observances, Saturday of Holy Week is often overlooked or forgotten.  There are no “special” events planned on Saturday—we move from the spectacle of Jesus crucifixion on Friday, right into the jubilee of Easter morning.  For many of us Saturday is a day of hunting for eggs with the children or simply another day to get ready for Easter Sunday breakfast, Easter services and time with family.

But there is a treasure for us on Saturday if we are willing to receive it. 

This treasure only comes in waiting and in silence.  To appreciate Easter, we must begin to enter into the moment with the disciples and to ponder the fact of the death of the Son of God.  This moment is captured well by the song “Buried in the Grave” by All Sons and Daughters: 

There was a day we held our breath
And felt the sting of bitter death
When all our hopes were buried in the grave

Our eyes awake, our hearts were torn
Between our faith and what we knew
Before our King was buried in the grave

And grace was in the tension
Of everything we’ve lost
Standing empty handed
Shattered by the cross

-All Sons and Daughters, “Buried in the Grave”

It would have been tempting to stay busy and to distract themselves from the pain.  But we read in Luke 23:52-56:

This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.

On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

Luke 23:52-56

The Scripture says that after the Lord’s death they laid his body in a tomb and then his followers rested according to the commandment.  They could have pushed through with all the various activities that one would expect at the time of death but they pause and observe the Sabbath.  They take the time to be still and quiet.  No doubt they spent much time that day in prayer and in reflection.  Maybe for some there was a sense of anticipation as they recalled the Lord’s word that he would rise again on the third day.  Again, All Sons and Daughters captures this in their beautiful song “Buried in the Grave”:

All we have, all we had
Was a promise like a thread
Holding us, keeping us
Oh from fraying at the edge

All we knew, all we knew
Was You said You’d come again
You’d rise up from the dead

-All Sons and Daughters, “Buried in the Grave”

The Saturday of Holy Week is an opportunity for us to take time to do likewise—to pray and to reflect and to anticipate–with the goal of truly appreciating all that the resurrection of Jesus means for us.

(Below are a few thoughts about praying on Holy Saturday.)

The Vigil of Easter

Holy Saturday has two moods.  The first is the keeping of vigil with its longing and waiting for the breaking of the new day.  It is a day in which no candles or fire  are kindled for the light of the world lies in the tomb.  It is a day without music and singing, for sorrow chastens and sobers us for a time.  Often our churches have their altars covered with black cloth.    Proverbs 13:12 summarizes well the two-fold emotion of this night,

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”  

-Proverbs 13:12

The second theme is, therefore,  the joyful anticipation of tomorrow.  Though we sorrow in the moment, we remember Jesus’ promise that He will rise again in victory.  It is traditional to keep vigil through the night of Holy Saturday reading through twelve Old Testament readings that foreshadow the deliverance found in Jesus Christ. 

At sunrise on Resurrection morning, we rejoice to know that death could not hold Jesus Christ in its power.  As darkness gives way to light, we receive the daily parable that it must ever be this way in the Kingdom

“Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.”

-Psalm 126:5

“Most assuredly I say to you, that you will weep and lament…and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy…now you have sorrow, but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you..”

-John 16:20, 22  

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

-Psalm 30:5

Our prayers on Holy Saturday, therefore, have these two moods throughout: sorrow and joyful expectation. Here is a suggested pattern for your prayer time: Begin with a season of mourning over your sin and over the reality of death and darkness in our world. Take some time to repent and be still before God in silence. Then pray for the sick, the dying, the orphan, the widow and for those who are lost.

Then move into the second mood of Holy Saturday, joyful expectation. In this season of prayer we lift prayers up to the Lord knowing that because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are heard (1 John 5:14) and can receive the grace and help that we need (Heb. 4:14-16). Pray for the unreached people of the world, your local churches, your leaders, and for your family and children. Pray in the confidence that God loves you and that you one of His beloved children (1 John 3:1). Pray with confidence, knowing that death has been defeated and that God is working all things together for your good and the good of all who love him (Romans 8:28).

(Below are a few categories for spending time in prayer on Holy Saturday.)

Prayer Categories for Holy Saturday (and Scriptures references)

FIRST MOOD: SORROW

-The sick and the dying (2 Cor. 1:8-11; Heb. 4:16; James 5:15-16)

-Spend time repenting of your sins and of your nation’s sins (Psalm 51; Isaiah 60:5; James 4:9; 5:16; 1 John 1:9).

-Our neighbors and the lost in our area (Matthew 9:35-37).

-For the poor and downtrodden, the orphans and the widows (Psalms 68:5; Matt. 5:1-11; 12:19-21; James 1:27).

SECOND MOOD: JOYFUL EXPECTATION

-Give thanks for all that God has done! (Psalm 100; Philippians 4:6-8).

-Our nation’s leaders (Psalms 2:10-11; Rom. 13:1; 1 Tim. 2:1-2)

-Local leaders and servants—police, fire, rescue. Hospitals, nurses, chaplains, teachers, and elected officials.

-The unreached peoples of the world (Utilize Global Prayer Guides that were handed out in church at the start of the New Year)

-Local churches (Luke 11:2; Rom. 15:5-6; Eph. 4:13; 6:18-20; Col. 1:9-10)

-Our pastor and elders and deacons (1 Kings 3:9; Psalms 145:14-15; Prov. 3:5-7; 1 Cor. 15:58; Col. 1:9-10; 2 Tim. 4:7)

-Our children and grandchildren (Deut. 6:4-9; Matt. 22:37; John 10:27-28; 1 Cor. 10:31; Heb. 12:5-6).

What is Lent?

Since becoming a Christian in college I have not attended a church that observed Lent (to my recollection), at least not while they were observing it.  I have been active primarily in non-mainline Presbyterian, Baptist, or Independent circles and I gather that these traditions generally do not practice Lent and its attendant days and rituals.  Even in seminary (I went to a non-denominational seminary, but most of the students were in the conservative arm of the Presbyterian church), I recall hearing very little about this season of the church calendar.

So when my church here in South Royalton began to talk about “Ash Wednesday” and Lent back in 2014, I had some homework to do.  Thankfully others in the church have helped.

It appears that the exact origin of the practice is unknown though some ancient documents suggest the practice goes back almost to the time of the apostles (if not all the way back to them).  Various writings from the 3rd and 4th century speak of a season of fasting prior to the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Eusebius records a letter in his History of the Church from St. Irenaeus (d. 203) to Pope St. Victor I, commenting on the differences of Easter practice that existed between the Eastern and Western church.  Therein St. Irenaeus makes reference to the fact that a season of fasting had been celebrated in preparation for Easter since the time of “our forefathers” (making reference to the apostles).  1  Today this season of fasting and self-denial lasts forty days in most traditions where it is celebrated (for a long time there was actually a period of 63 days in which preparations for Easter were made beginning with what is called “Septuagesima Sunday“.

The choice of 40 days seems to have stemmed from the story told to us in the Gospels of Luke, Mark, and Matthew, where Jesus fasted for 40 days in the desert, being tempted by the Devil. Those who participated in Lent were to fast, as Jesus had, for 40 days, and then return to the community to celebrate the Easter feast and/or to be baptized. 2

Forty days are marked by Lent from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday.  Because Sundays have always been marked as occasions to celebrate the resurrection of Christ, we do not include Sundays in the 40 day count. The other days are days marked by special prayer, fasting, self discipline in striving against sin, and sacrificial giving. The Church has always prescribed the three-fold discipline of prayer, fasting and almsgiving (Matthew 6:1-24) as strong weapons in the fight against self-centeredness and indulgence.  Forty is a sacred number being made up of 4, the symbol of the earth, multiplied by 10, the symbol of the complete judgement of God. Forty days marked the deluge which cleansed the earth in the time of Noah; forty years the wandering of the Jews in the wilderness to purge their unbelief; forty days the fasting and warfare of Jesus in the wilderness against Satan. 3

If you want to learn a bit more about the Christian calendar and seasons like Lent, Pastor Josh wrote a brief article for the Christian Research Institute last Spring (2019) and did a Postmodern Realities Podcast with them as well, which you can listen to here.

  1. Fr. William Saunders, “History of Lent,” http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0527.html.  Accessed on 3/5/2014.
  2. Robert Pannier, “Catholics: History and Meaning of Ash Wednesday and Lent,” http://guardianlv.com/2014/03/catholics-history-and-meaning-of-ash-wednesday-and-lent/.  Accessed on 3/4/2014.
  3. I am indebted to Russell Rohloff of Bethel, Vermont, for the insights and wording in this last paragraph.

What is Advent?

Maybe the greatest challenge of the Advent and Christmas season is to keep its true meaning in front of us. What is Advent really about?  Why the trees and the presents and the caroling and the parties?  Why all the hullabaloo?

The word advent means “coming.”

What’s coming?  Who’s coming?

Well, when you come to the Bible, you find a lot of talk about future things, but one of the most common and prominent future coming things throughout the Scriptures is the promise of a coming figure who would defeat Satan and evil and bring peace and deliverance to His people.

In fact, we don’t have to wait very long after the creation story to find God already talking about this. All the way back in Genesis 3:15 we find the first place where promises are made and where people begin anticipating or waiting upon someone who is going to come. 

In Genesis 3:15 we have God saying that a future descendant of the woman will crush the head of the serpent, Satan, which lead man and woman into sin.  

Many theologians call this the “protoevangelium” which is a fancy way of saying, the first announcement of the gospel (the good news), that one is coming who would deliver man and woman from their sins.

So right off, in the Scriptures, we have a sense of anticipation—a sense of forward looking towards a future, great deliverer that is coming. 

Jesus, the Long Awaited Deliverer

Of course, over time God would make many more promises to His people and would add many layers to this promise.  We know that he would be one like Moses who delivered his people from captivity.  We know that he would be a son of King David.  We know that he would be born of a virgin.  We know that he would be a suffering servant, one who was crushed and afflicted; one whose own wounds bring about our healing.  We know that he will sight to the blind and set the prisoner free.  We know that he will pour out his spirit on young and old and men and women, slave and free.  All of this and much more, we know from later promises that were given in the time of the Old Testament prophets. 

All of this would take thousands of years to unfold, but finally he came in the person of Jesus Christ.  And the world has never been the same.

But things didn’t stop there, did they?  No!  History didn’t end.  God still has plans and is still doing many things.  With the coming of Jesus came new insights into the Old Testament prophets and also new prophecies about the future. 

So although the advent, or “coming” of the Messiah, the Christ figure of the Old Testament, is here, that does not mean we are done waiting. 

Christians Are Still Waiting Today

Christians are still waiting today.  What are we waiting for now?  Over and over again the New Testament talks about Jesus coming again.  One well known story is found in Acts chapter 1 verses 6 through 11:

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

There it is.  This same Jesus, will come back, just as you’ve seen him go.  And in many other places similar things are said of Christ.

And Advent is a time for us to talk about that and express that reality in tangible ways.  Like today, for instance, we light the candle of hope.  There are two things about hope to realize.  First, hope points to a future reality.  Take Romans 8:24 and 25 for instance:

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Hope points forward.  But secondly, hope also points to something wonderful.  We don’t hope in bad things.  We hope in good things.  So there are good things coming.  Romans 8 that same passage talks about how all creation groans as though it were in childbirth for the restoration of the earth and for the revealing of the sons of God.  Those are good things that have not happened yet, so we hope in them. 

So today we light the candle of hope to say, yes of course, Christ has come, he has fulfilled many prophesies, but not all is complete yet and we are still waiting for his final coming and for the complete and full restoration of all things.

The Second Advent of Christ

The church has picked up on this and that is why historically, Advent has been the time when Christians actively anticipate and prepare for the 2nd coming of Christ. 

The Latin word adventus (where we get the word Advent from) is the Latin translation of the Greek word Parousia (pe-ROO-zea), which is a word commonly used of Christ’s second coming.

Because of Christmas, which follows the season of Advent, and because of the huge commercialization of the holiday, it is easy to think only of Christ’s first coming or first advent during these four weeks, but that would be a mistake.  Because, as I’ve already said, we are still today, waiting upon Christ to come again.

Already and Not-Yet

We live in that already not-yet period of time that I’ve spoken of before. 

Christ has already come and brought fulfillment to many of the promises that we see in the Old Testament, but they are not yet completely fulfilled in some senses. 

For instance, God has promised that he will complete the work that he has started in us who believe (Phil. 1:6) .  In a sense that promise is already fulfilled.  We are complete in Christ and before God we are blameless and clean, right now.  However, we still live in this sinful flesh and we still sin and struggle every day.  So the full fulfillment of that promise will not happen until the day of Christ Jesus, when he returns again and we are changed in the twinkling of an eye and given our perfect, resurrection bodies.

So, in that sense we are already complete and not-yet complete.

This is what Advent is all about for us as Christians.  We live in that in between time—in between the two advents of Christ.

So even today, as Christians, we are still in a posture of waiting.  We are still anticipating.  God has been faithful to send the Deliverer once, and we know He will come again.

And that is what Advent is about.

End Notes

This blog is an excerpt from a recent message by Pastor Josh. Watch on YouTube here.

Ordinary Times

The book of Ecclesiastes gives us a clue for understanding the Church’s liturgical year, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.[i] This verse reminds us that God created order and seasons with limits at the very heart of His creation, and that each of these seasons or times has a purpose that manifests and makes present the Kingdom in a particular way.  It may be the annual progression of the seasons of spring to summer to fall and to winter, or it may be seasons of distress or joy, feasting or fasting, remembering or putting into action.  Each and every one season has a purpose; each and every one is important.

In today’s English, the word ordinary makes us think of something that is not special or distinctive, and because of this we may be prone to think that Ordinary Times refer to those parts of the Church year that are not important.  But the fact that this time makes up the majority of the Church year (33 to 34 Sundays of our year) should tell us otherwise.  There are two periods of Ordinary Time, the shorter running from the celebration of Epiphany to Ash Wednesday, and the second longer period from Pentecost Sunday to the First Sunday of Advent.  Because the celebration of Resurrection Sunday varies from year to year, the season after Epiphany varies between 4 and 9 Sundays, and the season after Pentecost varies between 23 and 28 Sundays.

So much for counting Sundays, why are these Sundays placed where they are and what purpose do they play in our congregational life?  To understand Ordinary Times, we must look first at what “bookends” each period.  The book ends in each case are the annual portrayal of the central mysteries of our faith, the incarnation of Jesus, His death, His resurrection and ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit.  The season of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany proclaim the truth that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son…to redeem”[ii] and that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.”[iii]  The Sundays of Ordinary Times after Epiphany are intended to convince us that God’s deliverance has broken into our world through His Son.  It is intended to lay to rest forever in our hearts the question of who Jesus is, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”[iv]  The answer proclaimed to us is a resounding “This is the Chosen Deliverer of God, hear Him, believe Him.”

The Sundays after Epiphany end with Ash Wednesday and the observance of Lent and our journey to the cross, the empty tomb, a mountain in Galilee, and an upper room in Jerusalem.  This is the annual retelling of the story of our redemption, of our adoption as God’s children, of the mystery of God’s Holy Spirit dwelling within us.  The season of Lent, Holy Week, Resurrection Sunday, Ascension, and Pentecost echo the Apostle Paul’s words, “Now I would remind you…of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to …the twelve.”[v] 

In these days we celebrate the specific, historic, supernatural acts of God that have brought about the salvation and deliverance of creation.  By contrast, during the Ordinary Time from Pentecost to Advent we celebrate what God has done through the Holy Spirit, empowering us to live out the gospel message day to day in the context of our ordinary lives.  It is during this season that we recognize that Jesus continues to bring grace and deliverance to the world by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within the church.  We might consider the church year from Advent to Pentecost as the proclamation of the good news of God’s love, grace, and deliverance; and the church year from Pentecost to Advent as the Acts of the Apostles, wherein God moves through the followers of His Son to bring in the kingdom in all its fullness.  This season is intended to remind us that our calling is to take the witness of who Jesus is and what He has done to the uttermost parts of our world.

We are not created to live on mountaintops where the view is spectacular, the light brilliant, and the air rarified.  We are called to make our dwelling in the valleys and plains where the rest of the world dwells and to work out salvation while seeking theirs.  The “mountain top” holy days provide vision, inspiration, and calling; it is in the ordinary times of the year that the leaven of the gospel is able to act.  Perhaps a quick illustration will help us understand the purpose and use of Ordinary Times.

The extraordinary acts of God to bring deliverance to our world are often likened to a seed that is sown.  Planting times were a time of celebration because the seasons had turned and the prospect of bringing forth new life from the earth was everywhere.  So too, the times of harvest were celebrations as the fruit of the fields were brought into the storehouse in abundance.  But in between planting and harvest, between seed time and fruitfulness, were weeks and weeks of watering, thinning, tending, weeding.  It was in this in-between time that the success and bounty of the seeds sown were actually brought about.  God has sown the precious seed of the gospel in our hearts, Ordinary Times allow us to care for it, nurture it, and see it come to maturity within our hearts achieving not just another cycle of time, but something that reaches into eternity.

End Notes


[i] Ecclesiastes 3:1

[ii] Galatians 4:4-5

[iii] John 1:14

[iv] Matthew 11:3

[v] I Corinthians 15:1-5