Saturday, April 03, 2021

Holy Saturday 2021


Don't just do something, sit there! 

The day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is called Holy Saturday (not Easter Saturday - that's next week!). It's a day about which the Gospels are silent though, because, as far as the disciples are concerned, nothing is happening, and nothing now will happen.

W.S.Auden captured this feeling in his poem "Stop all the clocks"

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, 
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone, 
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum 
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come. 

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead 
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead, 
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves, 
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves. 

He was my North, my South, my East and West, 
My working week and my Sunday rest, 
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song; 
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong. 

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one; 
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun; 
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood; 
For nothing now can ever come to any good. 

The authorities who had Jesus killed think that it is the end  too. Jesus is sealed in a stone tomb. There are even guards outside it to make sure that no one tries to steal the body. The story is over. 

It is tempting for us to rush on to Easter Sunday. After all, we know that they are wrong. The story is far from over; in fact it is just beginning. 

But it's important that we give this day its due attention, this year even more than every other year. 
Today we are all waiting, and often feeling helpless to do anything. We are waiting for the coronavirus to abate. We are waiting for vaccines to be given and to take effect. We are waiting to be able to resume our normal lives while knowing that many things will not go back to "normal" at all. This illness will have profound effects not just on those who suffer from it, or those who are bereaved by it, but on the world's economy, on businesses, on our children's education and many other facets of our lives. We don't know what those effects will be, and we can't know at this stage. We are living in a long Holy Saturday. Sometimes we may wonder if there will be any resurrection at all. Like those who waited on that first Holy Saturday, we don't know how things will turn out. 

But Christians believe that we can be sure that whatever happens, in death and in life, we are held in the hands of God, that "neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present , nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. " (Romans 8.38-39). We may not know what lies ahead, but this day tells us that even when the life we have is shut in the tomb, just as we are shut in our houses, God is there with us, in the darkness of death, and that can make even this day holy. 

Matthew 27.57-66
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door 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 what that impostor said while he was still alive, “After three days I will rise again.” Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, “He has been raised from the dead”, and the last deception would 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 with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.

In tears of grief, dear Lord, we leave thee.
Hearts cry to thee, O Saviour dear. 
Lie thou softly, softly here.
Rest thy worn and bruised body. 
At thy grave, O Jesus blest
May the sinner, worn with weeping
Comfort find in thy dear keeping.
And the weary soul find rest.
Sleep in peace.
Sleep thou in the Father's breast. 

The Harrowing of Hell

On Holy Saturday Christian tradition says that Jesus descended to the dead, who were thought to exist in a shadowy underworld where they waited for resurrection.  There he broke its gates open and set those imprisoned free.
The harrowing of hell,
from the Petites Heures of the Duc de Barry

On this day there may be nothing to see happening "above ground", but like the seed that germinates unseen in the dark earth, God is at work in Jesus even now. Just because we can't see anything happening, and we can't do anything, it doesn't mean that nothing is happening.

From “The Vision of Piers Plowman” by William Langland. 
[Translated from the Middle English by Ronald Tamplin in “The Sun Dancing” Charles Causley ed.

Hold still

Truth said: I hear some spirit
Speaking to the guards of hell,
And see him too, telling them
Unbar the gates.  'Lift your heads
And from the heart
Of light
A loud voice spoke.

These gates, Lucifer,
Prince of this land: the King of glory,
A crown upon his head

Satan groaned and said to his hell’s angels,
It's that sort of light sprung Lazarus.
Unstoppable.  This’ll be big, big
Trouble, I mean all sorts of bother
For the lot of us.  If this bigshot
Gets in he'll fetch the lot out, take them
Wherever that Lazarus got to
And truss me up quick as you like.  Those
Old Jesus freaks and the weathermen
Round here have been going on about
This for years.  Move yourself, Greaser Boy,
Get all those crowbars your grand-dad used
To hit your mum with.  I'll put a stop
To this one.  I'll put his little light
Out.  Before he blinds us with neon

Get all the gates closed.  Get the locks on
Lads, stuff every chink in the house.
Don't let pieces of light in!  Windows,
Fanlights, the lot.  Moonshot, whip out, get
The boys together, Horse and his lot
And stash the loot.  Any of them come
Near the walls, boiling brimstone, that's it!
Tip it on top of them, frizzle them
Up like chips.  Get those three-speed crossbows
And Ye Olde Englishe Cannon and spray
It round a bit - blind his Mounted Foot
With tintacks.  Put Muhammad on that
Crazy catapult, lobbing millstones.
We'll stab them with sickles, clobber them
With those spiky iron balls on string.'
'Don't panic,' said Lucifer, 'I know
This guy and his shining light.  Way back
In my murky past.  Can't kill him off.
Dirty tricks don't work. Just keeps coming.
Still he'd better watch out, so help me.'

The light said Unlock:
Said Lucifer, Who
Goes there?

A huge voice replied, the lord
Of power, of strength, that made
all things., Dukes of this dark place
Undo these gates so Christ come
In, the son of heaven’s King.
With that word, hell split apart,
Burst its devil’s bars; no man
Nor guard could stop the gates swing
Wide.  The old religious men,
Prophets, people who had walked
In darkness, 'Behold the Lamb
Of God', with Saint John sang now.
But Lucifer could not look
At it, the light blinding him.
And along that light all those
Our Lord loved came streaming out.
Romanino, 1485 -1566, from the church of Santa Maria della Neve, Pisogne

Questions to ponder:

  • How do you cope with waiting? What helps you to wait?
  • What do you feel helpless about at the moment? Tell God what it is and try to leave it in his hands.
  • Why do you think people have found comfort in the idea of the harrowing of Hell?

Join us tonight for our final service of Compline this week.
You can find the podcast here. There will also be a service of Compline at 8pm in church. 


Come up with a list of "waiting" games.  There are some ideas here and here 

Make a calm down bottle. Put -  some glitter and other lightweight things in a plastic bottle, top up with water, and a tiny drop of washing up liquid. Fasten the lid on very securely (I tape it on). Shake it up, then wait for it to settle.

Make an Alleluia banner or some bunting ready for tomorrow. Cut out triangles and write one letter on each one of the word "Alleluia". If you have made an Easter Garden you could make a miniature banner or string of bunting to go in it. 

Jesus' friends were sad when he died. I wonder what else they might have felt? There are lots of ideas for exploring emotions with children on our Pinterest board today. 

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