Yesterday, due to Covid-19, I missed attending one of my favorite church events, but our excellent staff at Foundry Church shared a Good Friday service remotely via The Internet. Still nothing can replace the solemnity and silence that we normally experience on Good Friday.
Christians around the globe celebrate two of the most holy days this weekend. We all know what Jesus experienced on Friday and Sunday, but was Saturday just another ordinary day with little or no significance?
To be honest, I have never given it much thought. I have always left the solemn Good Friday service in silence anticipating the glorious Sunday celebration to follow. An article in the current Christianity Today magazine caused me to contemplate what happened between Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection. The article, “Before Christ Arose He Was Dead,” by Travis Ryan Pickell offered three possibilities of what Jesus may have experienced on Saturday.
Before we consider those three days, it is vital to first reflect on Jesus’ incarnation. God becoming a man was the greatest miracle, the deepest mystery and most profound event in history. Everything Jesus of Nazareth experienced was experienced as both God and man. His conception was unique, but his birth was natural. Nine months gestation preceded the baby’s struggle through the birth canal, exhaling his first breath with the piercing cry of a newborn. His childhood development was normal. As a young man he learned the trade of his adoptive father. After his baptism things changed when the Holy Spirit descended and indwelt him.
As an itinerant preacher he experienced the joy of close relationships but also deep loneliness and rejection, even betrayal by a close friend. He knew hunger and thirst but also enjoyed rich banquets at the table of the wealthy. He experienced pain so severe that we can never fully appreciate. He also experienced the dying process and death.
As we remember Jesus’ life and death on this holy weekend, let us reflect on what Jesus may have experienced on that Saturday two millennia ago.
Day one, Friday: Luke the physician reports that Jesus “expired” shortly after noon. The lungs of that infant, inhaling his first breath in Bethlehem, now exhales his last breath outside Jerusalem. His heart stops beating. No pulse. No brain waves. Jesus has died and is buried.
Day three, Sunday: Jesus body, now transformed but still very real, very human, is alive once more. Death has been defeated.
Day two, Saturday: Here is the mystery? Where is Jesus on Saturday? We know his body is lying in the tomb, but where is he?
Did he descend into the underworld, perhaps purgatory, to preach to people who perished in Noah’s flood as some interpret 1 Peter 3:19?
Is this when Jesus “disarmed rulers, putting them to shame and triumphing over them” as Paul wrote in Colossians 2:15? Probably not since Jesus’ body remains in the grip of death; the victory is not yet won. He has not yet ascended to the Father. Consider Jesus’ words to Mary on Sunday morning, “Stop clinging to me for I have not yet ascended to my Father.”
One thing is certain: Jesus was dead on Saturday. The God-man was dead! Shocking thought? Amazing is the way Charles Wesley described it, “How can it be that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?” A good question if Jesus is God.
What does that Saturday two millennia ago have to do with us today? We gather to remember Jesus’ death on Friday because his death bought our redemption. That’s what makes Friday good. We love to gather (and will gravely miss the opportunity this year) on Sunday to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. We sing, “Up from the grave he arose with a mighty triumph o’er his foes…”
But, what should we sing on Saturday, the day between Friday and Sunday?
Why sing praise or give thanks for a dead body? Why not? Saturday reminds us that we have a high priest who understands and is compassionate with us because he has experienced life in real time
. During this pandemic we are frequently introduced to people who have lost a loved one to the virus while quarantined in the ICU with no family members present during the dying process. Jesus experienced dying alone, surrounded by strangers and the curious. Perhaps we hear that most clearly in his last words, “Father, why have you forsaken me?” Taking my sin upon himself, he became quarantined on the cross.
Now that I have considered Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, I am encouraged to draw near to Jesus when I am fearful or exuberant. Whether healthy and without a fever or infected by a virus. Whether surrounded by family and friends or alone, perhaps stranded in a foreign airport after the last flight has departed. Whether I am struggling with temptation or experiencing victory on the mountain top, I can confidently draw near to my great high priest because he has walked through the valley before me and will walk with me.
In the Christianity Today article the author reflects on historical religious pictures that try to capture Jesus’’ passion, death and resurrection. One picture by a 16th Century German artist, Hans Holbein the Younger, painted the almost naked corpse of Jesus lying in the tomb. Rigor mortis and early signs of decay are evident. I know it was Saturday because Jesus is certainly dead. The artist paints the corpse with mouth wide open as if joyfully expecting a great awakening on Sunday.
Isn’t that the picture Paul painted in 1 Corinthians 15? Jesus died! But, he arose on the third day and was seen by hundreds of eyewitnesses. Therefore, we can be certain death (and dying) has been conquered once for all.
In this present global pandemic, when the foundations of our culture have been shaken and many live in fear, let us draw near with confidence to Jesus because he understands.
So, on this sad day, this Saturday, what shall we sing? How about, “Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my savior! Waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord (and God)!”
I close with one quote from the article: “If God can be present in the death of Jesus Christ then God can be present even when he seems distant.”