Sermon for Holy Saturdayadmin | 23 April 2011
“What mean ye by this service?”
Holy Saturday is the quietest and most peaceful of all the days of the Christian year. Why? Because all the noise and nonsense of our fallen and broken humanity has had its way, right to the bitter end. God has put himself into our hands and we have done our worst. Christ is dead. Christ now lies buried in a borrowed grave. In one way, we are a spent force.
But it is the quietest and most peaceful day for another reason. “It is finished,” Christ said on the Cross in what is the penultimate word of the Crucified. His last word, too, signifies the fuller meaning of that sense of completion. “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” But what is finished? What is in his spirit that is placed into the hands of his Father? Simply all that belongs to human redemption. It is all accomplished. There is peace between God and man.
Holy Saturday is paradise restored. It recalls the original harmony between God and man and between nature and God. That, too, is part of the peace and quiet of this day. But that sense of paradise restored is only part of the meaning of this day. Paradise in the biblical and theological understanding is not our homeland, not our end. Our end is with God in the glory of heaven. That is something more and greater than Paradise. It is, perhaps, Paradise plus! For we cannot return to Eden.
We cannot undo the effects of the fall, the effects of sin and folly. The purpose of Holy Week, after all, was to make us more fully aware of sin so as to understand better Christ’s overcoming of sin. Sin and love have been fully on display throughout the pageant of Holy Week. I hope that we have learned something about our selves and about God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. The purpose has not been for us to forget our sins and their disastrous and deadly consequences. No. The purpose has been to see the divine work of human redemption transforming our sins into his righteousness and truth.
And now, all is accomplished. But the further sense of that all is quietly signalled as well on this day. The lessons indicate the radical nature of the divine will to be reconciled with the whole of his sinful creation. We hear of Christ “go[ing] and preach[ing] to the spirits in prison,” “set[ting] captives free from the waterless pit,” restor[ing] the prisoners of hope,” and about ourselves as wayward sheep being “returned to the Shepherd and guardian of our souls.” Powerful images.
Something of the radical meaning of the divine will to be reconciled with the whole of his sinful creation is captured in the creedal statement that “he descended into Hell.” It is also captured in a wonderful icon that is part of the spirituality of the churches of Eastern Christianity. It is the icon of Christ going and drawing out of Hell, Adam and Eve and the host of those whom Zechariah calls “the prisoners of hope.” This is all part of the doctrine of Holy Saturday. Hell here means the place of departed spirits. The idea is that Christ’s redemptive work is truly universal and seeks the redemption of all. But we have to want it. We have to be looking for it.
These features of Holy Saturday catapult us into the second aspect of Holy Saturday’s peace and quiet. It is also a day of waiting, a waiting upon God, a waiting upon the possibilities of a new and radical beginning. We await Christ’s resurrection. For that is the fruit of the passion and the quiet of this day. The tomb becomes the womb of new life. A new creation. Such is the resurrection. But we can only wait for it, looking for that great something more that God in his gracious mercy wills to give us.
“What mean ye by this service?”
Fr. David Curry
Holy Saturday, April 23rd, 2011