When I was a kid, Easter was a big deal. Of course, Christmas was a bigger deal. There were toys at Christmas. Easter came with candy and new church clothes. The latter was received before Easter, often on Saturday, as you were expected to be decked out in such clothes for church on Easter morning. We had to make sure they fit, and everything matched. This wasn’t something we were excited over.
It got worse. Not only could we not eat any chocolate candy while wearing our Easter clothes, my siblings and I were also expected to wear these clothes long after church. We couldn’t take them off until we had the family photo snapped in front of azaleas or dogwoods, which bloomed around Easter in Coastal North Carolina. Over time we learned to smile and behave just so we could end the torture and get back into our more comfortable play clothes and stuff our mouths with chocolate.
In addition to the candy that was in our Easter baskets waiting on the breakfast table that morning, there was often a small gift. After receiving a fishing rod one Christmas, my brother and I started receiving tackle and lures stuck between the chocolate bunny and caramel eggs. One year, we both received a jitterbug. Mine was yellow and my brother’s black. This lure struts back and forth as its reeled across the top of the water. It leaves a wake as large as a small ship. Fishing with it is best at dusk or night. Then, the air cools and the fish feed off the surface. The lure can drive a big bass crazy.
I’m sure my father didn’t pick out this gift with theological forethought. After all, Easter is all about sunrise. It’s about the dark tomb opening up and sunlight streaming in on abandoned death clothes. Easter is a day we wake to celebrate, with the rising sun, the resurrection of our Lord. But we shouldn’t forget that Easter follows a period of darkness. On Friday, when Jesus was crucified, we’re told in Matthew’s gospel that darkness covered the world. An eclipse, maybe? But we don’t really know except that the darkness expresses the evil happening on that Friday afternoon, which we now call Good. Jesus dies on a cross; things appear hopeless.
The darkness sticks around, at least metaphorically. They take Jesus’ body down from the cross and place him in a tomb. It was a rush job as the sun sinks in the West. The burial must be concluded before the Sabbath began at sunset. For this reason, we’re told that the women return to the tomb on Sunday, the first day of the week. They must wait till after the Sabbath to properly prepare Jesus’ body for burial.
Between Jesus’ burial late Friday afternoon and the events that Sunday morning, darkness hangs over the world. Not physically, as the sun and moon still rose. But darkness like one experiences without hope. The disciples and the women who followed Jesus are alone in their grief. This Saturday is a day for Christians to ponder what life would be like without the hope we have in the resurrection.
On this Saturday, we should consider the disciples who grieved and pondered their future without Jesus. And we should remember the women, who were anxious to prepare Jesus’ body for the tomb. And we shouldn’t forget his mother, who watched her son die a horrible death. This was a Sabbath they’d never forget. They may not have even eaten, for they were so consumed with grief the day before that they would not have had the time or motivation to prepare for the Sabbath.
On this Holy Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter, is a time to ponder darkness. While there will be times it feels as if we’re far from God, the truth is that God is never far away. While we may feel abandoned, God is with us. The 139th Psalm reminds us that wherever we go, God’s Spirit is already there.
And on this Saturday, something mysterious happened. In the darkness Jesus achieves victory over death. So even on this day, as we who have faith and live on this side of the resurrection, await Easter’s sunrise, we can rest assured that God is working things out.
Holy Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter, is a good time for those who strive to follow Jesus to remember not to be afraid of the dark. Maybe I should pull out a jitterbug and fish as the darkness descends. I can keep castings, being unafraid of the shadows and the darkness. I can keep casting, until the stars reflect on the calm waters. For there is no reason to be afraid of the dark, for I know not only God is close, but that’s when the Almighty does his best work.
Jeff Garrison is the pastor of Bluemont and Mayberry Presbyterian Churches. He blogs at https://fromarockyhillside.com