". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


The In-Between of Easter: Why Saturday Is Important

March 30, 2024

The middle is often difficult.

Our memories usually focus on the beginning and the end of something. The middle either gets lost or becomes fuzzier in our minds. For example, when we think of our school days as children, we might think back to the butterflies of the first day or to the relief of graduation. The daily drudgery of homework or quizzes is left sitting on the shelves of our memories. The middle may be murky, but we don’t get from the beginning to the end without going through it.

In our celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection, the middle is no less important. Beginning with Palm Sunday, Christians’ focus on the week leading up to the resurrection culminates with a three-day period bookended by of the solemnity of Good Friday and the joy of Easter Sunday. But it’s the Saturday in the middle that often gets overlooked.

And it’s overlooked for good reason. After all, Saturday is the day when the least happens. There’s not a lot going on. Jesus is crucified on Friday, the sky goes dark, the veil is torn, and Jesus is buried. It is finished, isn’t it?

Sometimes, what is not said is just as important as what is said. And the very few words that Scripture has about Saturday end up telling us a great deal. The first such words we find in the New Testament are found in Matthew 27:62-66 (ESV):

“The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ 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.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.”

The most detailed account of what happens on Saturday is not an account of what happens to Jesus. Nor is it an account of what happens with the 12 or his other disciples. It’s an account of what happened among the people who killed him. Even after they had succeeded in their mission, they were still worried about Jesus’s influence. In fact, this very guard set by them would later try to spread the lie that Jesus’s body had been stolen — the very thing these leaders tried to ensure would not happen.

Throughout the four gospels, Jesus’s disciples completely missed what he was saying to them. But here, on the Saturday after the crucifixion, these unbelievers were listening more closely than his disciples were. Sadly, this is too often the case with us, where an unbelieving world appreciates the influence of Jesus more than we do. The chief priests, the Pharisees, and Pilate all saw that if people believed that Jesus rose from the dead, it would change everything. We Christians say the words often enough at Easter, but do our actions back up the belief that Jesus’s resurrection changes everything?

Matthew’s is the most detailed account of Saturday, but it’s not the only one. Luke, wrapping up his account of Friday, records in Luke 23:54-56 (ESV): “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.”

The bulk of Saturday was, of course, the Sabbath. These women, who were followers of Jesus, and most likely the other disciples as well, observe the commandment to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. They rested according to the commandment. But it couldn’t have been a peaceful rest. We know that when we next hear of the disciples on Sunday, some of them were found indoors with the doors locked for fear of the Jews. Two millennia removed, it’s hard to appreciate the fear they felt, but we can imagine it. The one in whom they had invested all their hopes had been killed. Will they be next? That Sabbath rest must have been a fitful rest.

Perhaps for some of them, the words of that darkest of Psalms, Psalm 88, came to mind:

“I am shut in so that I cannot escape;

my eye grows dim through sorrow.

Every day I call upon you, O LORD;

I spread out my hands to you.

Do you work wonders for the dead?

Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah

Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,

or your faithfulness in Abaddon?

Are your wonders known in the darkness,

or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?” (Psalm 88: 8b-12 ESV)

If our rest is restless, it’s sometimes even more stressful than work. While it may be on the calendar as rest, if we can’t find solace, restlessness becomes all-consuming.

It’s not a coincidence that the finished work of Jesus was followed by the Sabbath. At the end of what was previously the most eventful week in earth’s history, Moses tells us in Genesis 2:1-3: “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day, God finished his work that he had done, and he rested. … So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”

God finished his work and then he rested on the seventh day. Jesus, while on the cross cried, “It is finished!” And then in death, he rested on the seventh day, a day which when the sun went down and came up again, nothing else would ever be the same. Jesus’s work was finished, the work of the cross that put him to death would put an end to our works that lead to death. The barrier to entering God’s rest is unbelief, according to the author of Hebrews. Only we who have believed enter that rest (Hebrews 4:3).

On Saturday, the people who killed Jesus knew that resurrection changes everything, so they made every effort to stop it. On Saturday, Jesus’s friends were nowhere to be found, quarantined in fear and restlessness on a day of rest. On Saturday, Jesus was still dead, buried in the tomb. A stone was sealed and a guard was placed. “Do you work wonders for the dead?” “Do the departed rise up to praise you?” The answer to those questions is a resounding “yes” in the resurrection of Jesus. The important thing about Saturday is that Sunday is coming. This Easter Saturday, let’s put our restlessness to rest, and look with hope to him who makes all things new.

Jared Bridges is editor-in-chief of The Washington Stand.