Saturday and the Silence of the Lamb

During this season, which many Christians call “Holy Week,” I am perversely drawn to Saturday. Perhaps it is because the Saturday between “Good” Friday and Resurrection Day is, for others a sort of relief. For them it is a day off from the relentless grieving and guilt associated with Lent—at least for those who take the Roman faith seriously. For others “Holy Saturday” becomes business as usual or, at best, the last day to buy and sell before Easter.

I am drawn to Saturday because it is the day between suffering and glory; between accomplishment and vindication. Today is an awkward in-between day that is neither fully this nor fully that. On Friday the attention is on the stations of the cross. On Sunday the attention is, as it ought to be, on the resurrected Savior. On Saturday, however, the attention of the church, such as it is, falls upon the tomb.

The Heidelberg Catechism has one question devoted to this aspect of our Lord’s humiliation:

41. Why was He “buried”?

To show thereby that He was really dead

The early versions of the Creed alternated between “sepultus” (buried) and “descendit” (he descended) as synonyms. Eventually, as the doctrine of Jesus’ descent to the place of the dead (ad inferna) or to the dead ones (ad inferos) the “descendit” took on a life of its own and the the “sepultus” was neglected.

The burial of our Lord was another part of his ignominy. Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere even to be buried. So Joseph of Arimathea provided a tomb fit for a king. While Jesus was entombed he was silent. Finished were the cries and taunts of the cross but it was not yet time for the triumphal declaration: “He is risen.”

Today is a day of silence, and yet the work of salvation, of deliverance from the curse and its effects, continues. We can see the work of salvation on the cross and we see it in the empty tomb, but neither of those means anything without the three days in the belly of the whale, in the womb of death, from which he must emerge.

Today, God is, as it were, silent but he is not asleep. The tomb is ugly, but it is also sanctus. Today is the in-between time. The first act is finished but the curtain, though torn, is not closed.

[This post appeared originally on the HB 22 March 2008]


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  1. Hello, Dr Clark — I love this blog, and you are drawing me to Calvinism despite my Anglo-Catholic heritage! I am wrestling with that one, believe me. I’ll leave it to you to read between the lines.

    With regard to ‘For them it is a day off from the relentless grieving and guilt associated with Lent— at least for those who take the Roman faith seriously’… I agree with what you all that you say about (what I know as) Holy Saturday, except that for us it is not ‘a day of relief’ but still of fasting (for Catholics, anyway) until 6 p.m. at the earliest. You are correct in that there is no church activity until Vigil Mass / Holy Communion in the evening — at which point Lent ends. Until then, those of the ‘Roman faith’ are expected to mourn the loss of Jesus and meditate on His sacrifice for us.

    If I misinterpreted what you meant, my apologies. All best wishes.

  2. Holy Saturday is an amazing time to reflect, an analogy of the “now” and the “not yet.” Where we live now, in some ways. Great post!

  3. I find fascinating the things you’ve been writing and even podcasting about “he descended into hell.” Your recent comments clarifying the fact that the earliest usage of this phrase was a reference to Christ’s burial was a confirmation of my own suspicion that such was the case. Only I came at it from a background in King James Onlyism, listening to my then-teachers haranguing the evils of modern translations that so frequently replace KJV’s “hell” with “the grave,” among other things. This would often be their springboard to a proclamation of hell as a literal location with literal fire. Having renounced KJV-Onlyism, and embracing Reformed theology, and coming into more frequent contact with the Apostles’ Creed, seeing “he descended into hell,” with such associations bouncing around in my head, it was for me a quick logical trip from “he descended into hell,” to that phrase being some sort of parallelism, if you will, of the previous phrase, “he was crucified, dead and buried.”

    Likewise, considering my Reforming fundamentalist baggage related to the whole Easter season, I’d be interested in your conclusions regarding the popularly supposed pagan associations surrounding the English name “Easter.” Last year I posted at my own blog a link to an article by Christian History Magazine arguing that, rather than Bede’s lone claim that the name Easter is related to prior Anglo-Saxon pagan festivities, it is more likely derived from the similarity between the Germanic “ostarmanoth” (“month of opening”) and the Roman “April,” which means “to open.” In short, in my opinion, rendering the practice of saying “Happy Easter” more or less like saying “Happy April,” rather than “Happy Ishtar/Eostre/etc.” What might you have to add to these things? (here’s the link to the article via my blog–if you don’t mind–

    Then there’s the whole “three-days-and-three-nights” debate, but I’m getting winded already…

  4. By the way, I meant to also ask, exactly how did the historic Reformed (continental and English/Puritan/Presbyterian) churches approach these practices? Thanks.

  5. Very memorable post, I just re-read it. Also confirms what’s happening in Jesus’ anointing at Bethany in Mark 14:3-9 – he is in the house of “Simon the Leper” – the realm of defilement and death. And proleptically anointed by the woman who “broke the piggy bank” and was unknowingly preparing for his burial!

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