“Now Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross. And the writing was: Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews….and it was written in Hebrew, Greek and Latin.” John 19:19, 20b
The chronology of these days is gleaned from the scriptures. The gospel of Luke tells us that as soon as it was day (the Jewish day watch begins at 6:00 am), the Sanhedrin rose up after their trial of Jesus in the night, and led Him to Pilate for judgment. The gospels record Pilate’s deliberations and Matthew tells us that finally he washed his hands of the whole matter and handed over this innocent man (his words) to the crowd to crucify. Mark further records that they crucified Jesus at the place of the Skull at the 3rd hour (in the day watch this would be 9:00 a.m.). And Luke tells us that from the 6th hour (12:00 noon) until the 9th hour (3:00 p.m.) darkness was over the land. It was in this final hour that Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And then, bearing the full weight of sin upon himself, He said “It is finished”; “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Hanging His head, Jesus yielded up His spirit to the awful judgment of God upon sin.
Since it was the day of preparation for the Passover (which began at 6:00 p.m. on Good Friday), the body of Jesus was hastily taken down from the cross, washed and prepared for burial, wrapped in burial cloths as was the custom, and laid in the borrowed tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. And what of His closest disciples? Matthew 26:56 records that at His betrayal, “all the disciples forsook Him and fled.” Matthew 25:75b says that after Peter denied the Lord three times, “he went out and wept bitterly.” John 20:19 says that on Resurrection day, “…the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews…” And even after the reports of the women at the empty tomb, Luke 24:11 says that the women’s words “seemed to them like idle tales and they did not believe them.” Separated from Jesus Christ for the first time in three years, faced with the improbability of His death, the followers of the Lord faced what St. John of the Cross calls “the dark night of the soul.”
We mark these days in prayer and waiting. The hours between 12:00 noon and 3:00 p.m. on Good Friday, the hours of darkness upon the cross, are traditionally set aside as a holy time marked by silent contemplation, prayer, and true contrition of heart. This is the most solemn day of our Atonement. In it we should recall our own forgiveness and redemption, the blood that Jesus Christ shed for our sin. We should remember what we would be without him and weep bitterly in our hearts at the thought. The prophet says that all our righteousness is as filthy rags. It is only this day that enables us to know peace, love, joy, and hope as we are restored to right relationship with our Father. In the recognition of our own unworthiness to merit any favor from God, we should glory is the immeasurable worth of Jesus and His death. He is that supreme gift of God’s mercy and grace. Many Christians will do the Stations of the Cross during this period of time to aid them in a full contemplation of the events of the day.
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.” 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 kindle the new fire and greet the sunrise with the ancient prayer, “The Exulstet”. 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
Russell currently serves as an elder in the church. His own spiritual pilgrimage extends back almost 40 years and includes a sojourn in the Roman Catholic, American Baptist, Lutheran, Independent Charismatic, Independent Congregational, home fellowship, and Federated Congregational church settings. In these settings he has served as a catechist, bible teacher, independent school principal, outreach coordinator, and ordained pastor. His current life verse is Romans 1:15. “So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you…”