Saturday, March 30, 2013

Holy Saturday is one of the "Three Days," too

John Chrysostom (center) in
an icon of "The Three Holy
Hierarchs" given to me by
former student Drew Phillips
Holy Saturday is arguably the most neglected day of the Triduum, the "Three Days" that begin with the evening of Maundy Thursday and stretch through Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday in the Christian calendar. On this Holy Saturday I found myself musing about what we ought to think about in giving attention to this day in public worship (may there be more Holy Saturday services!) and in private devotion. Here are some of these musings.

Today is the day of God's solidarity in Christ with the boundary between earthly life and the life everlasting. Today is the day on which Christ, the prototypical human, offers the paradigm of the experience of being "absent from the body" but "present with the Lord" in the boundary between death and resurrected life. Today is the day on which it seems that evil continues to have its usual upper hand in its violent exercise of power in the present state of things, but in fact in the cosmic drama disclosed in Christ its ultimate undoing has already begun.

The "Catechetical Sermon" of St. John Chrysostom (344-407) is read as part of the liturgy of the Paschal Vigil in Eastern Orthodox churches. In it Chrysostom says this about the cosmic drama of Holy Saturday:

Let no one fear death, for the Savior's death has set us free. He who was held prisoner by death has annihilated it. By descending into death, he made death captive. He angered it when it tasted of his flesh. Isaiah saw this, and he cried: 'Death was angered when it encountered you in the lower regions.' It was angered, for it was defeated. It was angered, for it was mocked. It was angered, for it was abolished. It was angered, for it was overthrown. It was angered, for it was bound in chains. It received a body and it met God face to face. It took earth and encountered heaven. It took that which is seen and fell upon the unseen.
-- in For All the Saints: A Prayer Book For and By the Church, compiled and edited by Frederick J. Schumacher with Dorothy A. Zelenko, vol. 1, Year 1: Advent to the Day of Pentecost (Delhi, New York: American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, 1994), p. 981

While Good Friday is about the cross seen by all and Easter Sunday is about the empty tomb seen by a few, Holy Saturday is about the unseen in the seen reality of death. There's more than meets the eye! May it be so in today's observance of Holy Saturday.

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