Saturday, April 7, 2012

Holy Saturday

As I mentioned Thursday, we're taking a break from discussing policy and personnel changes that hinder academic freedom and quality at OBU.  In honor of Holy Week, I offered a personal reflection and have tried to point to different parts of the Christian liturgical and theological traditions that might be compelling and meaningful to people.  Today, with the Last Supper and the Crucifixion behind us, Jesus is in the tomb.

Holy Saturday
Observances of Holy Saturday vary widely throughout the Christian world.  In Roman Catholicism, there is no Mass in the liturgy for this day, and the availability of the Sacraments is limited to those who are sick and dying.  Protestant observances (except for Anglicans, Lutherans, and some Methodists) are, as far as I know, relatively rare.  Church Easter egg hunts are quite popular, however.  In my opinion, churches should not encroach on Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny's turf.  But I'm just a no-fun old fart.  And my bride is expecting our first child any day now, so I'll probably be singing a different tune next year, taking my toddling daughter to every Easter egg hunt in town.

Anyway, where Holy Saturday is observed, many of the atmospherics of Good Friday services continue.  The chancel area is stripped bare: no flowers, colors, paraments, banners, etc.  There is little, if any, music.  And, for the love of God, don't project PowerPoint slides!

In Eastern Orthodox traditions, Holy Saturday is a big deal.  It is known as the Great Sabbath, for it is the day Christ "rested" in the tomb.  Many Orthodox traditions celebrate the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil on this day, which is the longest of the year.  Oftentimes, the service includes the reading of up to 20 Old Testament passages recounting the history of salvation.  In the afternoon, the Acts of the Apostles is read in its entirety.  Later in the evening, the whole congregation gathers around 11:30 p.m. After the liturgy is completed, all the candles are extinguished and congregants wait in silence for the proclamation of the resurrection at midnight: Χριστός ἀνέστη! ("Christ is risen!")

I have never attended a service on Holy Saturday.  If you have, I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

Easter Vigils
Because the liturgical day begins at sunset of the previous day, the Easter Vigil is an Easter service, and the first time the Resurrection is celebrated.

Most Catholic and some Protestant churches hold Easter vigils late at night on Holy Saturday.  Such services are affirmed from very ancient sources.  But they fell out of favor with Protestants until recent decades, when some traditions (especially Anglican and Lutheran) renewed their use.  In Catholicism and the Orthodox Churches, these services feature orders of Christian Initiation, where converts and new members are baptized.  It is also the first time since Holy Thursday that the Eucharist is celebrated. It is also the first time since the beginning of Lent that the Gloria section of the Mass is used.

Where this service is celebrated in Protestantism (again, I don't think it's very common except among Anglicans and Lutherans), the format is similar: there is the Service of Light and the Liturgy of the Word.  The readings recall the Hebrews' crossing of the Red Sea because Christians see Christ's passing over from death to life as the fulfillment of the Jewish Passover.  Other readins include the 118th Psalm and Romans 6:3-11, after which the Alleluia is sung and the gospel of resurrection is proclaimed (Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-8, or Luke 24:1-12).


In general, I think that by ignoring Holy Saturday, we miss an opportunity for a very meaningful observance that is crucial to the entire Passion narrative.  But we have to hunt for eggs, I guess.  Here are some notes on Holy Saturday from the denomination I know best, The United Methodist Church.  Interestingly, their Book of Worship provides a Holy Saturday service, though no congregation I've ever been affiliated with has ever observed it.  With this, I will bid you farewell until tomorrow.

Peace be with you.

Good Friday is the most agonizing service of the Christian year.
Holy Saturday is the most contemplative.
On this day, as no other, we are invited into the most profound silence of the life of God, whose Son, "of one being with the Father," lay buried in a tomb. That is what we can perceive from this side of Easter. From the other side, at services later tonight or tomorrow, we will celebrate how Christ preached to those in captivity and broke Hell's chains forever. But for this service, we speak from the emptiness of death as we know it and as the very Being of God experienced it.
We hear from Job, who had no hope for a future beyond this life and could not understand how God could allow such suffering to befall humans.
We join the prayers of the Psalmist that God may yet be our refuge in the face of danger and death.
We are confronted by the preaching of Peter, reminded that this emptiness and suffering are essential for a disciplined life of prayer.
We hear of the burial of Jesus and the political attempts to silence his followers, attempts that seemed likely to succeed.
And we are silent. Around all the hearing and the praying, we are silent. We join God's silence, the silence of creation, the silence of death.
And from that silence, we offer our prayers for the church and the world with the prayer Jesus taught us. And then, to silence we return to contemplate the mystery of the death of our Lord until the celebration of his Passover begins.

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