Holy Saturday obviously does not capture the Christian imagination like either of the days surrounding it. In many Christian traditions, the day has been relatively neglected. However, in recent times there has been increased attention paid to the question this day raises.
What should it mean to Christians to contemplate a day in which God the Son lies dead in a tomb?
Today’s readings from both Matthew and John speak in concrete details of the entombment of Jesus. The Gospel writers wish to make the reality of Jesus’ death perfectly clear. The Bible does not shy away from death or our anxiety about it. Today’s reading from the Book of Job is a testimony to the despair that death evokes. Job’s complaint against God includes his mournful contemplation of an utter end of personal existence. And as the selection from Lamentations shows, such despair can result from the experiences of life. Like Job, this writer knows the pain that life can bring.
And yet, like the author of Psalm 31, the writer of Lamentations knows also the hope that comes in turning towards God. Faithfulness to the promise of God’s steadfast love is refuge against even the greatest torment. First Peter is the only New Testament book to speak of Christ’s activities between death and resurrection, and along with 1 Peter 3:19-20, today’s reading yields both the famous creedal statement that Christ, “descended into hell,” and a resounding note of hope and trust in God’s love and grace. Even in the depths of our deepest despair, the Good News of Christ beckons us to hope and believe that the worst thing is not the last thing. Though this Saturday seems a silent exclamation point on the harsh agonies of Friday, hope is not dead.