Silent Saturday, April 11, 2020
Texts: John 19:38-42
After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.
And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. 45 And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. 46 And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.
The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ 64 Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.
Esther, Nehemiah, and Malachi, universally regarded as the last books to be written in the Old Testament, were all completed somewhere around the year 400BC. From that time onward, the people of God eagerly awaited His next move, which would surely be the arrival of the promised Messiah. In fact, the main reason the chief priests and Pharisees were determined to get rid of Jesus themselves is that more than a few false messiahs had emerged in the interim. Small yet courageous groups of rebel zealots had led feeble attempts at expelling their Roman occupiers by force, only to experience the swift and total power of the Empire. After the zealot leaders were killed and their rebel followers scattered, the Romans would tighten their restrictions on everyone to dispel even the thought of another insurrection.
By all appearances, the death of Jesus of Nazareth was simply the end of another chapter in a long line of futile rebellions. After being beaten beyond the point of recognition, Jesus was mortally wounded even before to climbing the hill to Golgotha. Then Jesus hung there on the cross for three hours, and Pilate was surprised to learn that He had died before evening, as death by crucifixion under normal circumstances, without flogging, could take up to twenty-four hours. Upon His death, Pilate released the body of Jesus to Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, both respected Jewish leaders and secret followers of Jesus, who took the corpse and laid it in the brand new tomb that had been meant for the body of Jospeh.
The women who had witnessed the crucifixion followed the body of their teacher to His final resting place. While Nicodemus had brought with him the necessary supplies for a hasty embalming, due to the late hour of the day it was impossible to provide a proper burial. The women diligently noted both the location of the tomb as well as the position of the body so that they might return the day-after-next to finish the job.
While Luke then writes that “on the Sabbath they rested,” the word ‘rest’ meant only the absence of work: true rest would not come that night or the next. Having come with Jesus and the disciples into Jerusalem from Galilee, the women would not return that evening to the comfort of their own homes even if they had wanted to. Instead, they fearfully huddled back together with the other followers of Jesus; John and the women who had witnessed the horrifically traumatic murder of their beloved Teacher and friend in a state of shock, while the rest of the disciples in disgusted self-loathing and denial at their hasty abandonment of Jesus in His greatest hour of need. Together, they all pondered their next move. What would become of them? Would the crowd that had chanted for the crucifixion of Jesus be satisfied with only His death, or would they try to round up the disciples as well and have them all punished for their role in His “kingdom?”
They sat and mourned together for hours that surely felt like weeks. While Jesus had been with them, He spoke and accomplished so many incredible things that, although it took some time, they had been fully convinced that He was all that He said He was. He had declared, “I am; the Bread of Life; the Light of the World; the Door of the Sheep; the Good Shepherd, the True Vine; the Way, the Truth, and the Life; and the Resurrection and the Life.” But now they knew, with just as much certainty, that this was truly the end.
As we sit on Silent Saturday, pondering what it must have been like to be one of those first followers of Jesus, it is easy to dismiss all that they endured. Typically, the day before Easter is for us one of busy preparation and merriment. We look forward to the next day, Resurrection Sunday, that will be spent in packed churches alongside masses of humanity dressed in beautiful clothing excitedly singing about the Risen Messiah before returning home to feast on the finest of food and drink surrounded by family and friends and then falling asleep in front of the television watching professional sports.
This year will certainly be much different, a year that for many will be much closer to the experience of the first followers of Jesus: small groups of families sheltering in place, fearful of an invisible enemy that awaits outside the doors of our homes, unsure of what will happen next. To those first followers, and to us today, the Lord would have us remember that He knows the plans He has for us. Although Jesus had repeatedly and frequently told anyone who would listen that He must die so that He could rise, no one understand His message until after it had come to pass. They could not possibly understand how Jesus would do what He had said He would do all along. Jesus is just as in control and command now as He was then. To His bride, He declares today, “Listen to me, believe that I work all things together for your good and for My glory.” In our period of waiting and watching, may we find true rest in Him.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, we confess that we do not like to wait. In this season, where we can do little but sit and watch, we are reminded of our true place in this world. Any feelings of control that we hold are nothing more than illusions, for You wield all power. Your ways are perfect. Your timing is perfect. You take even the most hopeless and senseless moments of life and use them for good. Help us to remember that You do not ever leave us alone in the dark, You are the Light of the World, and are more present with us than we know. We thank You for what You endured on the cross for our sake, that we can know You for who You have revealed Yourself to be. In the name of our Risen Savior we pray, Amen.