Saturday, April 3, 2010

Jesus Christ's Day Off

So much happens during Holy week - parades on Palm Sunday, communion on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday marathon services, early Sunrise services and multiple Easter worship services. These are busy days for preachers! But the Saturday before Easter is empty on most church calendars.

The day before Easter is called Holy Saturday in most American churches, if it is called anything at all. It has more interesting names in other places. It is known as White Saturday in the Czech Republic, Black Saturday or Saturday of Glory in the Philippines, and the Great Sabbath in the Eastern Orthodox Church. In Dutch it is known as Silent Saturday. It is Low Saturday and Easter Even in the Anglican Church. But not much happens in any church until perhaps an Easter Vigil at sunset.

In the Bible the day before Easter is quiet. It was a Jewish Sabbath, and Christ's followers observed it as a holy day. The women's task of giving Jesus a proper burial was put off until the following day. The apostles laid low.

What was Jesus doing on Saturday? I know his body lay in the grave, but what about his spirit? The Apostle's Creed says, "He descended into hell." That sounds exciting. But some denominations don't believe this and omit this controversial phrase from the ancient creed. Others change the word hell to hades, meaning a vague realm of the dead.

Peter says in his first letter, "He went and preached to the spirits in prison." Paul says in Ephesians, "he also descended to the lower, earthly regions." But it is not clear that the apostles were talking about Saturday. Some say that Jesus went to Paradise, based on his words to the thief on the cross: "Today you will be with me in paradise" But to be precise he said that on Friday, not Saturday.

Maybe the answer is "all of the above." Perhaps he did all these things, taking a whirlwind tour of heaven and hell, like a bargain tour of the Holy Land. The theme song for our first pilgrimage to Israel was "I ran today where Jesus walked..."

I like to think of Jesus taking a break on Saturday. Jesus had a tough few days. He deserved a rest. Holy Week is hectic for pastors today. Think of what it was like for Jesus! I like to imagine the Saturday before Easter as Jesus' day off.

I don't want to slight the biblical evidence. Let's just say he did the heaven-hell tour on Friday afternoon and evening. There was still time to take Saturday off and be refreshed for Easter Sunday.

I am not being flippant here or treating a serious topic lightly. Sabbath is a serious matter and an important spiritual discipline. Everyone needs a Sabbath, even Jesus. Genesis says that God rested on the seventh day after creating the world. Why couldn't Jesus take a day off after saving the world?

If this is true, then the best way we can honor our Lord is by obeying the Sabbath commandment on the Great Sabbath - to cease from work and silently remember the work Christ accomplished on our behalf.

Artwork is Holy Saturday by by Roxolana Luczakowsky Armstrong

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