The Eurasia Blog continues its Holy Week reflections with a reflection on the brief reading assigned in the one-year lectionary for Holy Saturday.
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard (Matthew 27:57-66 ESV).
Holy Saturday begins at sunset Friday (the Jewish day begins at sunset), and so it begins with the request to remove Jesus’ body and take it to be buried. After a week of flurried activity—the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the cursing of the fig tree, the anointing of Christ’s body, turning over tables in the temple, teaching, Judas’ betrayal, washing feet, instituting the Lord’s Supper, praying in the Garden, the arrest, the trials, the scourging, the crucifixion, an earthquake and the darkening of the land and more—all is now very, very still. Onlookers return home and there are no more yelling, angry crowds. There are only a few more quiet activities: Joseph of Arimathea coming quietly to Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus and the chief priests and Pharisees requesting a guard for the tomb. And that is all. Everything is very still.
Now is the waiting. And God is seemingly silent. Christ’s mouth, stopped by death, opens not to comfort the women as they keep watch across from the tomb. No promises or assurances can come from Him. God the Father is silent, too. Having abandoned His Son to the horrible crucifixion and leaving Him utterly alone. Inactive and silent. Far off and cruel. The silence, in fact, is deafening.
It is the same deafening silence we know when God abandons us, too, leaving us to our graves. It is the silence we hear as all crumbles around us and God absents Himself from our suffering. It is the silence families know and feel when a loved one suffers from a debilitating disease. They have prayed and they have asked politely, “God heal him from this disease.” But no answer comes and things only sink deeper. It is the silence that couples know and feel as they struggle to conceive a desperately wanted child and no medical intervention makes any difference. It is the silence of the grave in which we lay our loved one, tragically lost. Where was God then? Where is God now? God is silent. Far off and cruel. His abandonment is palpable. And we wait for Him to speak.
But God was not always silent, no! He spoke at one time through the prophets, and then through His Son. And those words do not fade away. They resonate through the silence. Jesus speaks: “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day” (Matthew 17:22-23 ESV); “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and He will be raised on the third day” (Matthew 20:18-19 ESV). This is God the Father’s promise to Jesus. And Jesus clings to that. And His words resonate through the silence of death and the cold, sealed tomb.
So it is with us, also. As we lay in our graves and God is silent, Jesus continues to speak. The words of Jesus resonate through the silence: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this” (John 11:25-26 ESV)? And to this we cling, holding God to His promises and demanding that He make good. And so we wait out the silence. With the women outside the tomb. With the stone cold body of Jesus. We wait in hope that God will not always be silent.
Let us Pray: O God, creator of heaven and earth, grant that as the crucified body of Your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with Him the coming of the third day, and rise with Him to newness of life, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (The Lutheran Service Book: Altar Book, Collect for Holy Saturday, p. 885).