Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
As I write this, Margaret and I are sheltering in place. It is Holy Saturday morning, half-way between Good Friday and Easter. Even though this is traditionally meant to be a day for quiet reflection, for us it is normally a time of intense activity, full of errands and cleaning in preparation for tomorrow’s celebration. But today it is indeed a relatively quiet time — our lives having settled into the slower place of isolation. Outside my window, the major road we live on is almost without traffic, and the usual crowds of Saturday joggers are nowhere to be seen.
I’m sure you are as tired as I am of being home, or trying to be safe from infection if you have no home or space to yourself. Even though I am frustrated by endless zoom meetings, and am missing the office, the usual contact with my staff, and the comforting rhythm of daily worship in our little chapel, this enforced fast from physical presence and from the sacraments has made me acutely aware of how blessed I am to have a roof over my head, a job, and the freedom to keep my distance.
I also reluctantly give thanks for being forced to take in what Holy Saturday is really about. Our prayer book provides a special liturgy for this day. You can find it on p. 283. Usually I lead this brief service in the nave of our cathedral, with the altar guild and the flower guild and the acolytes preparing to rehearse for the Easter Vigil, who put aside the hustle and bustle of preparation to recall Jesus lying in the tomb. This year I was in our kitchen, with my iPad perched on a stack of cookbooks, leading this little service online. Although I pray we will be back to the old routine next year, I am glad to be reminded that this day is not so much about preparation and busy-ness as it is about rest. That is, it is about sabbath.
Sabbath, the seventh day of each week, was important in the ancient Christian imagination, especially as it related to Easter. Jesus was crucified on Friday, the sixth day of the week, which, in the Biblical account of creation, was the day when God made humankind. Sunday, the first day of the week, when Jesus rose from the dead, recalled the beginning of creation, when God made light. So the crucifixion unleashed a remaking or restoration of human nature, and the resurrection bestowed on us the possibility to live that restoration out in new and creative ways. But in-between came sabbath, when God rested from all God’s work.
So Sunday is not the sabbath. Unlike Saturday, it was never meant to be a day of rest but a day of action, of mission, of initiative. Some of you may know I spent my early childhood in Italy, and the Italian language remains dear to my heart. In Italian, the word for Saturday is “sabbato” — sabbath. As we await the dawning of the most important Sunday of the Christian year, it is important to pay attention to this Holy Saturday, the most important sabbath of the Christian year. We are invited to a sacred time of rest, allowing the meaning of Christ’s death to sink into our souls. We are invited to rest in reflection, to rest in gratitude, and to rest in patience as we discern what holy work tomorrow’s new beginning brings.
But there is more. According to Scripture and tradition, while the human nature of Jesus lay lifeless in the tomb, he in his divinity descended to the dead, rescuing them from death, hauling them into light. This teaching, enshrined in the Apostles’ Creed, is based on 1 Peter 3:19 and 4:6. Even as we are made to rest uneasily in isolation and anxiety, we are reminded that our risen Lord is not idle or constrained in any way, but even now stretches out his hand to lead into renewed and no doubt spiritually healthier life together.
May your Easter, however diminished it is outwardly, be graced inwardly with the abundant certainty of life in Jesus Christ.
“Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles, ‘Peace be with you; my own peace I leave with you.’ Regard not our sin, but the faith of your church, and grant us the peace and unity of that heavenly city, where with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, forever and ever.”
The Rt. Rev. Thomas E. Breidenthal, D. Phil,
Bishop of Southern Ohio