Saturday, April 15—The Time of Waiting

Holy Saturday also is called the Easter Vigil, the Paschal Vigil, or the Great Vigil of Easter. It is a time of transition and waiting. We shift our attention from Christ’s death on the cross toward Easter and the glory of His resurrection.
 
Luke 23:50-56 provides one account of what occurred originally. “Now there was a man named Joseph from the Jewish town of Arimathe′a. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their purpose and deed, and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud, and laid Him in a rock-hewn tomb, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and saw the tomb, and how His body was laid; then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.” (Revised Standard Version)
 
The fact that Christ did not rise on Saturday is a topic for theological scholars, but one idea seems worth mentioning here. Saturday was the Jewish Sabbath and represented very specific things regarding the relationship between God and humans. Even the people who took Christ’s body, prepared it, and placed it in the tomb, rested on that day in accordance with the Sabbath laws. Christ’s death was a new beginning, however, and new practices were warranted. Because Christ rose on Sunday, Christians worship on the day of His resurrection, not according to the historical Jewish Sabbath.
 
This does not mean, however, that Holy Saturday is just another day in Holy week. It is far more than that. First, today marks the 40th day of the traditional Lenten fast. The number 40 has deep significance throughout the Bible, and it seems entirely reasonable to dedicate a 40-day period each year to preparing for Christ’s resurrection. When Lent was established, it intentionally included Holy Saturday, rather than concluding on Good Friday.
 
Furthermore, by having a day between Christ’s death and resurrection, we have time to wait at the Lord’s tomb, as His followers did originally. We can medicate on His life and death. We can use prayer, meditation, fasting, and other approaches to await the arrival of Easter. We wait, as Christ’s Mother Mary did, for His victorious triumph. In the Catholic Church, “this faithful and prayerful symbolic waiting has been called the Ora della Madre or Hour of the Mother,” according to ChurchYear.net. Scripture specifically points out that we should await the resurrection the way a grieving Mother who had complete faith in God’s redemptive powers and plan to bring us to His side after death would do—with reverence and anticipation.
 
Finally, as we know for the “Apostles’ Creed,” “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; He descended to hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. From there He will come to judge the living and the dead.” Clearly, God’s plan called for Christ to face Satan directly proving that God had triumphed over evil permanently. So one day of waiting that permitted such an important accomplishment certainly is worthwhile.
 
“Apostles’ Creed,” Christian Reformed Church, https://www.crcna.org/welcome/beliefs/creeds/apostles-creed
 
References: “Holy Saturday: Holy Saturday History, Information, Prayers, Images, Traditions, and More,” http://www.churchyear.net/holysaturday.html
 

Prayer Suggestion

The following information comes from the Common Book of Worship, and it describes the traditional service for the Great Easter Vigil in detail. Note that the process has very specific components that relate to God’s plan for His children, Christ’s purpose and life, and the future of God’s relationship with mankind. After reviewing this information, take a moment to pray that God will make this time of transition particularly meaningful to you this year.
 

First Service of Easter

“The Great Vigil of Easter is the brightest jewel of Christian liturgy traced to early Christian times. It proclaims the universal significance of God’s saving acts in history through four related services held on the same occasion, and consists of:
 

Service of Light

The service begins in the darkness of night. In kindling new fire and lighting the paschal candle, we are reminded that Christ came as a light shining in darkness (John 1:5). Through the use of fire, candles, words, movement, and music, the worshiping community becomes the pilgrim people of God following the ‘pillar of fire’ given to us in Jesus Christ, the light of the world. The paschal candle is used throughout the service as a symbol for Jesus Christ. This candle is carried, leading every procession during the vigil. Christ, the light of the world, thus provides the unifying thread to the service.
 

Service of Readings

The second part of the vigil consists of a series of readings from the Old and New Testaments. These lessons provide a panoramic view of what God has done for humanity. Beginning with creation, we are reminded of our delivery from bondage in the exodus, of God’s calling us to faithfulness through the cry of the prophets, of God dwelling among us in Jesus Christ, and of Christ’s rising in victory from the tomb. The readings thus retell our ‘holy history’ as God’s children, summarizing the faith into which we are baptized.
 

Service of Baptism

In the earliest years of the Christian church, baptisms commonly took place at the vigil. So this vigil includes baptism and/or the renewal of the baptismal covenant. As with the natural symbol of light, water plays a critical role in the vigil. The image of water giving life-nurturing crops, sustaining life, and cleansing our bodies—cannot be missed in this part of the vigil. Nor is the ability of water to inflict death in drowning overlooked. Water brings both life and death. So also there is death and life in Baptism, for in Baptism we die to sin and are raised to life. Baptism unites believers to Christ’s death and resurrection.
 

Service of the Eucharist

The vigil climaxes in a joyous celebration of the feast of the people of God. The risen Lord invites all to participate in the new life He brings by sharing the feast which He has prepared. We thus look forward to the great Messianic feast of the kingdom of God when the redeemed from every time and place ‘will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God’ (Luke 13:29). The vigil thus celebrates what God has done, is doing, and will do.”
     Book of Common Worship (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993), pp. 294-295.