Sermon for Holy Saturdayadmin | 15 April 2017
“Turn unto the Lord your God”
In the quiet stillness of Holy Saturday, we turn to the grave and death of Christ. “It is finished”, it seems. All that remains are the quiet sorrows and griefs of our broken hearts in a broken world. And yet we turn to his grave. Such a turning is itself the beginnings of another motion, a seeking for something more in the honouring of what matters and is true about our loves and about our relationships with one another. We gather at the graves of our loved ones. How shall we not gather at the grave of Christ?
It is a borrowed grave given by another, by Joseph of Arimathea. That is fitting for Christ borrowed a death by borrowing a body, as Athanasius puts it, but he has made grave, death, and body his own precisely in his turning to us. And in giving us himself he gives us ourselves. Such is the turning.
The turning on Holy Saturday morning is about the fullest possible extent of reconciliation. It marks the further extension of the Passion. We turn to the grave in the disquiet of our souls but Christ hidden in the grave turns to the greater work of reconciliation. That greater work has to do with his Descent into Hell; his going down before his return in Resurrection and Ascension. It is all part of the circling. Such is reconciliation – our being returned to him from whom we have turned away.
He goes as Peter, drawing upon Zechariah, says to “preach unto the spirits in prison,” the prison of Sheol or Hades, the ‘place’ of departed spirits, the hell of our separation from God and Life. What does it mean? Simply that God seeks reconciliation with the whole of his sinful creation. Such is the radical nature of God’s turning to us in Jesus Christ. Literally nothing shall be lost but all shall be gathered up. The Epistle reading from 1 Peter points to this turning and circling, at once Christ’s Descent and then his Resurrection and Ascension. In those motions of going forth and return to “the right hand of God” the Father lies the redemption of the whole of sinful creation, past, present and yet to come. All is gathered into the eternity of God through the going forth and return of the Son.
The descent and resurrection and ascension are a kind of circling within the larger circle of creation and redemption. It is all about the motions of God in himself but also for us and in us. In a way, it is wonderfully expressed in the Creeds which themselves come out of the Scriptures and return us to them in a pattern of understanding and meaning.
Eastern Orthodoxy captures this idea graphically and profoundly in an icon which is about the harrowing of Hell in which Christ is depicted as drawing up Adam and Eve out of Sheol, out of Hell. Christ’s redemption of our humanity is in principle universal, for all. Our task is to will what he wills for us.
It happens in the face of our confusions and our willful intent to contain Christ – to keep him in the grave. The Gospel reading from St. Matthew anticipates the arguments of conspiracy about stealing away the body of Christ and deceiving the people by saying, “He is risen from the dead”. Thus a watch is placed by the Roman authorities at the grave of Christ and a stone seals the tomb. Such is one aspect of our turning to the grave – to keep it closed and sealed, a turning to death.
The beautiful Collect for Holy Saturday expresses another motion of our souls in its application of the mystery of the Passion and Death of Christ to us. It is a prayer provided for use in the Burial Office as well. It recalls our being “baptized into the death of Christ” and thus the need to be “continually mortifying”, putting to death, “our corrupt affections”, so that “we may be buried with him; and that, through the grave, and gate of death, we may pass to our joyful resurrection.” It is about our participation in the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. Again, it is all a kind of turning. Holy Saturday is about the gathering up of all things into the motions of divine love, the love which goes forth and returns but does not return empty. Such is the quiet hope that moves in us. It is all in the turning.
“Turn unto the Lord your God”
Fr. David Curry
Holy Saturday, 2017