Holy Saturday: Sabbath patience or scheming plots
The Gospel of Mark passes over Holy Saturday with only the briefest of phrases.
The Gospel of Mark transitions abruptly from the burial of Jesus on Good Friday by Joseph of Arimathea to the arrival of the women at the tomb on Easter Sunday, passing over Holy Saturday with only the briefest of phrases – ‘When the Sabbath was over...’ (Mark 16:1).
The Gospels of Luke and John follow suit although Luke does provide a rationale for the narrative interlude, namely, that after the burial of Jesus ‘they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment’ (Luke 23:56).
For these three Gospel writers, the Sabbath between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is the day about which there is little to be said, precisely because the Sabbath is the extra-ordinary time when all human activity must cease and what happens next depends entirely not on human ingenuity or effort but on divine power and initiative.
The Gospel of Matthew alone offers an account of Holy Saturday that serves to contrast with outrageous irony the desperate activity of the Jewish authorities opposed to Jesus and His Gospel with the obedient stillness of Jesus’ followers.
The Pharisees, a religious group who had frequently taken Jesus to task for failing to strictly observe the Sabbath, form an unholy alliance with the chief priests from the Jerusalem Temple and Pontius Pilate - an ‘unclean’ Gentile political leader of the occupying forces of the Roman Empire.
And together they plot their scheme on the Sabbath.
Matthew’s ironic portrayal develops further as the Jewish authorities articulate and justify their plan to prevent the possibility of the disciples stealing Jesus’ body to set up a resurrection fraud.
They remember Jesus’ teaching and acknowledge his prophetic interpretation of the ‘sign of Jonah’ that ‘after three days’ he would rise again (Matthew 12:40).
Against their own intentions, they are the very first ones to declare to a Gentile the Gospel of the early Christians as they pre-emptively state ‘He has been raised from the dead’.
And finally, in an allusion to the story of Daniel in the lion’s den (Daniel 6:17), they persuade a formerly reluctant ruler to secure the demise of a righteous man by sealing him in a cave...only to receive a shock on the following day.
We all have our Holy Saturdays.
Some of us may be waiting, desperately hoping, bewildered, confused that life is not turning out the way we expected.
Good intentions misunderstood, relationships broken, hopes fading and a sense that all we held on to is dissolving and slipping through our fingers.
At such times, like Jesus’ followers we are invited to practice the obedience of the Sabbath, the waiting game of humble submission that acknowledges that even though we cannot yet perceive it, God by the power of the Spirit is at work to being new life in unexpected ways.
Others of us, like the Jewish authorities, might rather have God sealed up in a box, instinctively afraid somewhere deep within us that this Gospel of the resurrected Lord is too powerful, too challenging, and will demand too much of us.
But however hard we resist, this resurrection God breaks the seals of tombs and bursts free.
And when God breaks through the boundaries set by our small-mindedness, he invites us to participate in a resurrection life that liberates us from ourselves.
Lord Jesus Christ, thank you that you are at work to bring new life even when I don’t perceive it and you appear to be absent.
I confess that sometimes I am too scared or too comfortable to desire to experience the power of the Gospel of your death and resurrection and prefer to be blind to what you are doing.
Grant me patience to wait and courage to trust, Lord, until my transformed life bears witness to your resurrection power. Amen.
Dr Martin Clay is Dean of Postgraduate Studies at Regents Theological College and a Fellow at The Institute of Pentecostal Theology. Regents is at the heart of the Elim Churches training programmes, and has been releasing people into ministry and mission for over 95 years.
These daily thoughts and responses are part of a series of eight by members of the Regents faculty for Holy Week 2022. They were written with the idea that they can be to used as a personal reflection over Easter, or with home groups, and also as part of a wider church ministry.
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