Jesus is crucified and dies on the first day; the day we call Good Friday. After his death, his body is taken down and, at the insistence of Joseph of Arimathea, is laid in a nearby tomb. It is the day of preparation. The Jews are making ready for the Sabbath that will begin at sundown and will last until sundown the next day. We know that some time after that Saturday sundown, when the third day begins, Jesus breaks free of the tomb… resurrected; alive. This third day, the Day of Resurrection we call Easter.
What happens between the first day, Good Friday, and the third day, Easter? It is, as we know, a Sabbath day. The city would have been quiet as observant Jews followed the ancient practices of this day of rest. It would have been a sad and discouraging day for the disciples of Jesus as they really didn’t seem to understand what was unfolding.
Perhaps they sat in silence, glancing at each other from time to time; replaying the events of the week in their minds. How could he go from being hailed as King, triumphantly entering Jerusalem just a few days back, to being executed as a criminal yesterday? Maybe they wondered if they were to blame. Had they missed something?
The answer to that question is “yes.” They had missed something, for Jesus had prophesied his own death, but they hadn’t been able to hear or understand him. And so, they sat entombed in the silence of the second day, believing that all had ended.
God does not work according to our understanding. This silent second day was the Sabbath Day, and Jesus had claimed the title of “Lord of the Sabbath.” He demonstrated time, and time again that Sabbath was about being able to live in the fullness of the gift of life given to us by God. On the Sabbath he had fed his friends, healed invalids, restored sight to the blind. On this particular Sabbath Day, on the silent second day between the cross and the empty tomb, Jesus worked a miracle of ultimate restoration and healing. According to the Creeds, the formulas that capture the essence of our belief and doctrine, it was in the silence of this Sabbath Day that Jesus descended to the dead. He went to the very gates of Hell itself, gates that could not prevail against him. He stormed the place of the dead and set the captives free… In the silence of this Sabbath Day, he set us all free.
He turned the darkness of the tomb into the darkness of something like a womb, so that new life would be God’s new Sabbath gift. The darkness of death became the dawn of new life.
Photo: "Galilee" Photo Credit: Noel Wygiera