Holy Saturday Reflections

It’s Saturday. It’s not Friday, when the terrible passion of Christ came to its climax.

It’s Saturday. It’s not Sunday, when death was dealt a final blow as Christ rose victorious from the grave. No, it’s Saturday. What do we do with Saturday?

Why, we might ask, do so many moments of salvation in scripture come on the third day? And what is the purpose of the second day?

“For I delivered to you as of first importance,” St. Paul writes in chapter 15 of the first letter to the Corinthian church, “what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures….”[1]

Why is it that of the three events just listed only two capture our attention? Christ died for our sins, yes, and he was raised on the third day without a doubt, but what about that forlorn phrase, “he was buried?” What is the purpose of the second day in God’s three- phase plan?

Perhaps, in its own way, Saturday should mark God’s people as much as Friday and Sunday do?

In Genesis we read of Abraham obediently marching toward the sacrifice of his only son, Isaac. Genesis 22 tells us the story:

“…God tested Abraham and said to him…”Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering…. So Abraham rose,” and prepared, “and went to the place of which God had told him.” Can you imagine the seemingly interminable journey toward Mt. Mariah? Day one, Abraham rises early, selects two young men to accompany him, cuts the wood for the offering, and finally sets off. But on day two there is nothing to do but think as he sets one reluctant foot in front of another; the waiting, the wondering, the pondering, the weight of keeping their plans to himself. On day three, however, Abraham “lifted up his eyes” and behold the ram which is his salvation—indeed, the rescue of God’s promise—is on the mountain. [2]

Come now to Egypt with Joseph’s brothers, in search of saving grain, who find themselves cast into prison. Can you imagine? Day one they were likely incensed at their unjust imprisonment, accused of being spies, day two, however, I suspect the guilt—so long suppressed—of their actions against Joseph may have begun to eat at them, but then on the third day Joseph speaks, “Do this and you will live….”[3]

Israelite spies, delivered by Rahab from the enemy city of Jericho are told to hide for three days, and then they may safely go their way.[4]

The future of the entire Israelite people weighs in the balance when Esther goes to fast and pray. On the third day, the king welcomes her into his presence.[5]

It’s not just the stories, but the words of the prophets which point us to take note. Hosea urges us, “Come, let us shuv, let us return to the Lord for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.”[6]

What is the structure of this three-day pattern? On the first day there is trouble; on the third day there is deliverance. What is on the second day?

On Saturday we don’t know that this will be a third-day story. There is only waiting, there is only angst, there is only distress and confusion, there is only despair. But no, there is something else. What is there for the faithful servant of God?

We cry out Hosanna!, Save us! Rescue us! and on Saturday it seems that God is silent. We’re still plodding toward Mt. Moriah, we’re still languishing behind bars, we’re still shivering in the wilderness outside Jericho, we’re still fasting for the future of our people. And what is God doing? God is resting.

This, it seems, is the message of Saturday. I got this; you, rest.

Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that at the proper time, he might lift you up. Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.[7]

You see this is where we are in history. God has shown himself real, shown himself powerful, shown himself here. The first fruits of our eventual rescue has ‘been here, done that.’ We are to rest as we wait for the fulfillment of the down payment we carry in ourselves—the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Yes, let’s lament Friday; let’s celebrate Sunday, because the rays of day are piercing the darkness, but where we live now as we wait is typified by “we have this treasure in earthen vessels;”[8] it’s a longing to be set free from bondage to corruption. Yes, we groan inwardly, but we rest.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.[9]

For you see, “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.”[10]

Perhaps the 7-day paradigm is to show us redemptive history while the 3-day paradigm illumines our experience, but they both point to the same reality. So when you’re groaning in the midst of a second-day experience, remember that God’s work is done, indeed, his works were finished from the foundation of the world, but since it still remains for some to enter it, he appoints a certain day: today. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, but identify yourself with his death, with his burial, and with his resurrection.[11]

Return to the words of Hosea: “Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out [to save us] is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”[12]

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Messiah Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death—so do not despair—rest in the assurance that this day two has been framed by the 7th and 8th day—so that, “just as Messiah was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”[13] So, “let us therefore strive to enter that rest so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.”[14]


[1] 1 Cor. 15:3-4

[2] Gen. 22:1-14

[3] Gen. 42:6-18

[4] Joshua 2:15-16

[5] Esther 4:15 – 5:3

[6] Hosea 6:1-2

[7] 1 Peter 5:6-7

[8] 2 Cor. 4:7

[9] Romans 8:18-25

[10] Heb. 4:9

[11] Heb. 4:1-11

[12] Hosea 6:4

[13] Romans 6:3-4

[14] Heb. 4:11