The Collect: O God, thou who sawest fit to try our faith on this day between the death and resurrection of thy Son: lift up our hearts with the hope of his rising, by the power of thy Holy Spirit. Amen.
Holy Saturday represents the time in between, the time when Jesus had died, but before he had risen again. We read in the Gospel that two of his disciples, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, brought “a mixture of myrrh and aloes” and then “wrapped [the body of Jesus] with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews.” Having thus laid him in the tomb, how might they reasonably expect to see him alive again?
They no doubt felt that God had, in the words of Jeremiah, “driven and brought [them] / into darkness without any light.” Such, though, is our circumstance in mortality: we have departed the heavenly light, left nothing but the haziest of recollections, and we live without even the certainty that there is any light to which we might return. We live as if buried in the tomb with Jesus, and “the thought of [our] affliction and [our] homelessness / is wormwood and gall!”
At times the darkness can become quite thick, insomuch that we, like the Nephites in this in-between period, can “feel the vapor of darkness” and not be able to kindle any fire to light our paths.
Nevertheless, as Peter writes, “For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.” As Latter-day Saints we read this passage with an eye to the Temple, as an indication that Gospel light might shine into the graves of our ancestors and set them free. And yet we might also read this verse as being about us, dead with the entombed Jesus in what Milton called “this dark world and wide,” not yet reborn into the heavenly world—for, as St. Francis is supposed to have said, it is in dying that we are born into eternal life. We call this state mortality for a reason, but the preaching of the gospel can show us how to be dead as though we were already alive.
In this way, we might borrow from the Psalmist to reimagine Jesus’ tomb as our “strong rock, a castle to keep [us] safe, / for [he is our] crag and my stronghold.” If we must be dead, what better company could we seek than Jesus’?
George Herbert’s marvelous “Easter Wings” poems capture, in both form and content, the process of our dying and rising alongside Jesus, even as we continue to live in this world of affliction and death:
Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
Though foolishly he lost the same,
Decaying more and more,
Till he became
Oh let me rise
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.
My tender age in sorrow did beginne:
And still with sicknesses and shame
Thou didst so punish sinne,
That I became
Let me combine
And feel this day thy victorie:
For, if I imp my wing on thine
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.
Let us therefore take cheer, even in the midst of our darkness: tomorrow is Easter!
Here is a musical setting adapted from today’s psalm by Josquin Deprez (c. 1450-1521):
In anticipation, inspired by Herbert’s image of rising larks, here is “The Lark Ascending” by Ralph Vaughan Williams: