A reflection on Holy Saturday: The Death of God
By Ry Siggelkow
It is all too common for us to skip over Holy Saturday. Perhaps it is because we don’t want to accept the reality of death, much less the death of God. We celebrate Good Friday for what “Christ did for us” on the cross, but even while we do this we tend to ignore the utter Godlessness of the suffering and death of Jesus. If on Good Friday God suffered, on Holy Saturday God died. The question about whether God suffered or not in Jesus is an old one. In the early church some denied that Jesus suffered at all, saying that he only seemed to suffer, precisely because it was believed that God couldn’t suffer much less die. Against such a view, we must affirm that Jesus’ suffering and death was very real and that he suffered and died as God.
Alan Lewis’ brilliant Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday is truly a remarkable work that I highly recommend. Lewis notes that Holy Saturday “appears to be a no-man’s-land, an anonymous, counterfeit moment in the gospel story, which can boast no identity for itself, claim no meaning, and reflect only what light it can borrow from its predecessor and its sequel” (3). However, this Saturday could be a “significant zero, a pregnant emptiness, a silent nothing which says everything” (3).
Building on the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar, Lewis stresses the supreme importance that when we listen to the Easter story we listen with expectancy. In other words, we must meditate on the cross and burial of Jesus without anticipating the end of the story. Lewis encourages us to reflect on the death of Christ without knowledge of the resurrection. He writes, “As the events of that climactic weekend occurred, and as the gospel story recounts them, this did not begin as a three-day happening, destined to end as a story of victory and life. Far from being the first day, the day of the cross is, in the logic of the narrative itself, actually the last day, the end of the story of Jesus” (31). Holy Saturday is not simply an “in-between day that waits for the morrow,” the resurrection is not in sight. Instead, this Saturday is “an empty void, a nothing, shapeless, meaningless, and anticlimactic: simply the day after the end” (31). So, today, we remember the savior of humanity lying in the grave, dead, a dead rotting corpse- utter hopelessness and Godlessness.
All quotes taken from Alan Lewis, Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003).