Those of you who read a lot will know the feeling that overcomes us as we near the end of a thrilling novel. The finish line is in sight and the tension is building. We ask ourselves the questions. Will the hero survive? Will the heroine finally find marital happiness? We have this irresistible urge to read a lot faster so we can come to the “happily ever after” at the end of the book. We can so easily do the same thing with the Bible or in our observance of Holy Week.
- HOLY SATURDAY
This has been the strangest Easter not only in our living memory but in the lives of Christians all over the world. For the first time in history, church doors have been shut globally and Christians have had to celebrate in their homes or by watching online services. In a normal year Christians may gather on Maundy Thursday evening for a Tenebrae Service. Most Christians gather for Good Friday services but all Christians will celebrate Resurrection Sunday. In our observance of Holy Week we can do the same thing as we do when reading a gripping novel. Jump straight from Good Friday to celebrate Christ’s conquest of death on Easter Sunday. But what about Saturday? How do you think the disciples felt that first Saturday? Sorrow? Numbness? Despair? Hopelessness?
- READ – MATTHEW 27:62-66; HEBREWS 2:10, 14-18
We must not rush too quickly to the triumph of Christ’s resurrection. Let us meditate on the events that transpired that first Easter Saturday. I know that we are all frustrated by being in lockdown – no sunrise service or Easter Sunday service at church. The disciples that first Easter Saturday were also in a state of lockdown (John 20:19).
a) SATURDAY’S CHILDREN
Saturday’s children are characterised by gloomy despair. What happened on that first Easter Saturday? The Scriptures have very little to say. In Matthew 27:62-66 we are told what the Jewish religious authorities did. In vrs 63 we are told that although they were convinced that Jesus was a deceiver they nevertheless remembered what Jesus had said about rising again. They did not want to entertain the possibility of Jesus’ disciples returning to the tomb to steal the body and claim that he had been raised. They requested Pontius Pilate to secure the tomb until the third day had passed. Pilate was happy to comply and dispatched a guard of fighting men to guard the tomb and affix the Roman seal on it. Anyone who tried to move the stone would have broken the seal and incurred the wrath of the Roman soldiers.
But how do you think Jesus’ followers occupied their time that first Easter Saturday. Think of his mother Mary. When Jesus was an infant she had taken him to the temple. Simeon had made many marvellous promises about this child but had also warned Mary in Luke 2:35; “a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Now on that first Saturday Mary was experiencing that sword. How do you think Peter felt that first Saturday? Paralysed by guilt. Twenty four hours ago he had denied that he even knew Jesus! The rest of the disciples would have sat behind locked doors (John 20:19) in stunned silence. The air must have been thick with despair. Their thoughts are best vocalized in Luke 24:21; “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” “But now he is dead and everything around us has come down like a pack of cards.” Gloomy despair reigned throughout that Saturday. There was no glimmer of hope. There was no thought of resurrection in their minds. Three times in Mark’s gospel (8:31; 9:31; 14:28) Jesus had warned the disciples about what awaited him in Jerusalem. “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” The penny had never dropped. They never understood. The mere fact that as soon as the Sabbath ended the women bought spices (Mark 16:1) to lovingly embalm Jesus’s body suggests that they fully expected to find a dead body the next morning. Make no mistake, the Saturday before the Resurrection was a day of despair, shattered dreams, gloom and inertia. The disciples gathered behind locked doors – no doubt fearing that the religious authorities were plotting the same end for them as they had for their Master. Saturday’s children today are consumed by the same sense of purposelessness and despair when confronting death as these first disciples. The apostle Paul puts it very bluntly in 1 Corinthians 15:14 and if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. In vrs 17-19 he goes on to say and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.
b) SUNDAY’S CHILDREN
What a difference one day and three words (Mark 16:6) “he has risen!” can make. Sunday’s children are characterised by purposeful hope. Hebrews 2:14, 15 are such hope filled words. Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death -that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. The same disciples that hid behind locked doors like scared rabbits that first Easter Saturday will in a few days be transformed into courageous witnesses who all bar one were martyred for their faith. What can explain this transformation other than the literal resurrection of Jesus? In Hebrews 2:10 we read; In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. The ESV translates the word author as “founder”. The new NIV translation however translates the Greek word (archegos) best of all when it speaks of Christ as the pioneer of our salvation. Some bible commentators try to get to the heart of this word by imagining that you are on a ship that has run up against some rocks. The only way to be rescued is for someone to swim ashore with a line, in order that, once the line has been secured others might follow. The first person to swim ashore would have been described as the “pioneer” or “trailblazer.” This is what we celebrate tomorrow. Jesus has taken on our greatest enemies – sin and death. He has risen from the dead and now holds the rope to draw His children after him.