Holy Saturday

By on April 1, 2023

Holy Saturday is my favourite observance of the Christian year. It is my favourite, and it is so often overlooked.

After Good Friday is said and done, after we have wept at the foot of the cross, often with little delay, we turn ourselves to the work before us. We get on with things. There’s a party coming, and we need to get ready.

We bustle about, flowers and greenery everywhere, filling spaces that have felt barren and stripped-down as we prepare for the joyful celebration to come. Whether we celebrate the vigil of Easter Saturday night, or mark our Saviour’s victory over sin and death at sunrise, or at a more respectable hour, how often do we intentionally enter the profound disorientation of Holy Saturday?

Years ago, when I was still in Ottawa, I was invited to preach at a west-side congregation on Holy Saturday. I was handed the text from Matthew’s gospel, the account of Joseph of Arimathea taking Jesus’ body, wrapping it, honouring it, placing it in what was to be his tomb. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are there in those fields, keeping watch by night. Matthew’s gospel doesn’t say much about their interaction, only that they have a good vantage point to see all that’s happening at the graveside.

The first time I read this passage of scripture in the context of Holy Saturday, I was overcome with the weight of it all. The oppressive weight of death. Breathless, lungs screaming for air. I found myself deep in the story, identifying with Joseph, completely overcome as he makes the deal with Pilate, tends to the body, mind flashing back and forth between the present moment and the trauma of that awful, God-damned mess on the hill outside the city.

In a few days we may ask, “where, O death, is thy victory?” But on Holy Saturday, all we can feel is death’s ever-present sting.

Each time I return to this passage, I am reminded of how few are left in the end. These three are the only ones left to keep watch. Keep watch, they do. While the others have scattered, have given up on God’s dream, have run off in self-preservation. Only these three remain faithful. Though they are empty, broken, and numb, they show up. They show up in a deep act of prophetic fidelity when no-one else does.

This is the moment that faith is forged.

In the face of the unknown, certainty is knocked out from under us, as fear begins to creep over hearts once brimming with love. Paranoia strikes deep, and easy answers are cheap; this is where faith begins.

On Holy Saturday, we are called to wait; to listen, to attend. To examine ourselves in this darkest of dark nights. The Teacher, The Messiah, The King. He’s dead. All that we thought would last; all that we thought was permanent, appears to be illusory. Will we remain faithful?

This is as much a question for the disciples of old, as it is for us at this moment in our church’s life. As we go forward into God’s future, there is no promise of safety. No guarantee of victory. No assurance of salvation. Not so much as a hint of resurrection. Will we remain faithful?

To what? And to whom?

Will we, like Joseph, Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary keeping watch, or will we run like Peter into the night? These last years, Holy Saturday has become the night on which faith begins. This is where our fidelity is tested. We followed Jesus in the abundance of life. Yet who of us is prepared to drink from his cup? Who of us is prepared to follow him in death?

Who of us will take up this cross? Prepare his grave? Pick up his mantle and continue the mission? Without promise of reward. Without certainty of victory, who of us will stay true to Jesus’ call? This night, there are no easy answers.

There are no easy answers, but there’s always, maybe.


  • Andrew Stephens-Rennie

    Canon Andrew Stephens-Rennie is the Director of Missional Renewal for the Diocese of Kootenay

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