Holy Week – Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday

INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE

JOB 14:1-14 Poor Job! Few laments in the Old Testament reach the depths of despair about the futility of life expressed in this passage. Its final words define the hopelessness of those without faith.

LAMENTATIONS 3:1-9, 19-24 (Alternate) The Book of Lamentations consists of a series of five liturgical poems written to express the grief of Jews who endured the economic and spiritual hardships of those remaining in their homeland following the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. This selection also contritely accepts those traumatic events as the judgment of God and expresses hope in the steadfast love of God forIsrael.

PSALM 31:1-4, 15-16 In striking contrast to Job’s despair, the psalmist voices his lament with a certain hope that deliverance will come because of God’s steadfast love.

1 PETER 4:1-8 These words exhort the recipients of the letter to embrace suffering as did Jesus the Christ. The community for whom they were written appears to have been facing persecution. Their conduct in the face of anticipated suffering will be the measure of their spiritual maturity. Of special note is the belief in the proclamation of the gospel to the dead, an interpretation that came into the Christian tradition from the apocryphal book of Enoch (2nd century BCE) and earlier Old Testament belief in a shadowy after-life in Sheol, the abode of the dead.

MATTHEW 27:57-66 These two brief vignettes assured Matthew’s audience that there could be no doubt as to the death of Jesus.  Joseph of Arimathea’s new tomb provided a special place for the burial according to the custom of the wealthy of those days. Rock sepulchers would have been too expensive for ordinary folk whose burials would more likely to have been in trench graves. The apprehensive sealing and guarding of the tomb by the priests and Pharisees present a striking contrast to the gentle solemnity of the burial by Jesus’ friends. But at that point did anyone really believe that the resurrection would occur?

JOHN 19:38-42 (Alternate)   John includes Nicodemus along with Joseph of Arimathea in his brief report of the burial. The amount of spices Nicodemus brought points to a depth of commitment, however much his fear of the Jews had forced him to conceal. Despite the claims still being made, archeologists have never located any specific tomb as the actual burial site. This description lends some greater authenticity to the Garden Tomb outside the Damascus Gate shown to tourists rather than the traditional site in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. (http://www.gardentomb.com/.)

A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS

JOB 14:1-14

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This passage includes parts of three of the four strophes of a poem ending Job’s third discourse ending the first cycle of the discussion between Job and his three friends. Scholars differ whether the poem should begin at 13:28 rather than 14:1. Some interpreters even truncate the poem to begin at 14:6. The whole poem (13:28-14:22) deals with the fate of mortal humanity and its utter finality. It also includes a wild imagining of an afterlife and the irrevocable annihilation of life.

Poor Job! Few laments in the Old Testament reach the depths of despair about the futility of life expressed in this passage. Its final words define the hopelessness of those without faith. Although the poem begins with a statement about humanity in general, he quickly reverts to the particular – himself (vs. 3). His concern centres on the predetermined brevity of his life as well as his sinfulness.

In vss. 7-9 a perceptive metaphor contrasts human life to the apparent immortality of a tree that seems to die only to be regenerated from an old root. Another metaphor in vss. 10-12 contrasts the finality of human mortality to the wasting away of lakes and rivers, a phenomenon frequently seen in the aridMiddle East. On the other hand, in vss. 13-17, Job does express some hope for an afterlife. The mournful yearning of vs. 14 sums up the vanity of such a hope. Was this the mood of the women approaching the tomb on Resurrection Day?

LAMENTATIONS 3:1-9, 19-24

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(Alternate)  The Book of Lamentations consists of a series of five liturgical poems written to express the grief of Jews who endured the economic and spiritual hardships of those remaining in their homeland following the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. They formed a single collection due to their common theme and purpose for use in the continuing worship of the people. This selection also contritely accepts those traumatic events as the judgment of God and expresses hope in the steadfast love of God forIsrael.

The lament was deliberately created to convey a particularly somber attitude. It has the appearance of a prayer by an individual as if the author was playing the role of Jeremiah. That prophet of the exilic era was traditionally, although mistakenly, regarded as the author. The lament proceeds through a series of moods from affliction to resignation, repentance and prayer.

The source of the author’s affliction is the wrath of God (vss. 1-3). Yet there is a sense of despair that his prayers are not being heard and is actually deterred from living righteously (vs. 8-9). The remainder of this selection refocuses the readers’ thoughts on Yahweh’s steadfast love. The opening words of two well-known hymns contain words identical with those of vs. 23: John Keble’s “New every morning is the love” and Thomas O. Chisholm’s “Great is thy faithfulness.” This essential note of hopefulness make the choice of this lesson particularly appropriate for Holy Saturday.

PSALM 31:1-4, 15-16

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In striking contrast to Job’s despair, the psalmist voices his lament with a certain hope of deliverance because of God’s steadfast love.

Scholars believe that the whole psalm presents a composite of three distinct voices of which we have only excerpts from two in this reading. The first calls for protection (vss. 1-8), the second for recovery from illness (vss. 9-12); and the third (vss. 13-18) a lament by someone menaced by hostile opponents. The lament ends with a hymn of thanksgiving for God’s gracious response (vss. 19-24).

The two selected excerpts have relevance for the Easter vigil. They express a prayerful hope that out of never-failing love God will act in a redemptive way as in the many occasions in Israel’s past. Note vs. 5 in particular. This is the kind of prayer that faithful people still offer from the depths of grief, especially when a loved one’s death has been an unexpected tragedy.

Kneeling beside a swift flowing river as a search crew pulled a teenager’s lifeless body from the water, a student pastor heard the boy’s father utter these words, “What is a  man to do to raise a son past 21?” This was the fourth of his sons to die tragically before reaching manhood. Yet the family remained faithful and contributed much to their community in later years.

1 PETER 4:1-8

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Scholarly debate still wrestles with questions about the authorship and date of this letter. Dates varying from the 60 to 120 CE have been suggested as to its message of encouragement to the Christian communities of northernAsia Minor. No historical data has ever been found to confirm any mission by the Apostle in that region. Arguments from silence, however, are never convincing. The author whose Greek was quite sophisticated could have been Silvanus writing on behalf of Peter (5:12), or is just as likely to have been pseudonymous but using the apostle’s name to give the message authority long after Peter’s death.

These words exhort the recipients of the letter to embrace suffering as did Jesus the Christ. The communities for whom they were written appear to have been facing persecution. Their conduct in the face of anticipated suffering will be the measure of their spiritual maturity. Of special note is the belief in the proclamation of the gospel to the dead, an interpretation that came into the Christian tradition from the apocryphal book of Enoch (2nd century BCE) and the earlier Old Testament belief in a shadowy after-life in Sheol, the abode of the dead.

The passage expresses a moral urgency throughout. The quality of life of the Christian before and after conversion is clearly set forth. The imminence of the end of history and the pursuant judgment of the living and the dead are true to the apocalyptic passages in the Gospels and other epistles, especially those of Paul. So also the appeal for constant love within the Christian community (vs. 8) reflects the words attributed to Jesus in the final discourse in John 13-16.

MATTHEW 27:57-66

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It is obvious that the gospel accounts of Jesus’ burial are just as distinctive as those of his crucifixion. These two brief vignettes assured Matthew’s particular audience that there could be no doubt as to the death of Jesus.  That, of course, was essential to the credibility of his subsequent narrative of the resurrection.

It is noteworthy that while Joseph of Arimathea appears in all four gospels, he also spoken of in slightly different terms. His membership in the Sanhedrin is attested in only two of the four gospels, Matthew and John being the exceptions. However, these gospels do imply that he was a powerful member of the Jewish community because he had access to the governor, Pontius Pilate.

The new tomb Joseph provided would have been a special place for the burial according to the custom of the wealthy and powerful of those days. Rock sepulchers would have been too expensive for ordinary folk whose burials would more likely to have been in trench graves. Furthermore, so few actual tombs of this type have been located in Jerusalem that there is no possible way that this could have been a general burial system for all the people.

Modern illustrations of such rock-hewn tombs have shown that these could be as simple as having place for a single burial or as elaborate as providing for several burials with ossuaries for the skeletal bones to be gathered and stored to make room for other remains. The controversial documentary The Tomb of Jesus (released in March 2007 on Discovery Channel  in USA and Vision TV in Canada) showed a very elaborate tomb with ossuaries in small niches as well as a place for laying recently deceased persons. Hewing such tombs from rock cliffs was widely practiced throughout the Middle East for centuries before Christ. The royal tombs of the great Persian monarchs, Darius I and II and Artaxerxes I, still exist in Iran.  Possibly the most elaborate are those still evident in Petra, the Nabatean capital which flourished from the late 1st century BCE to the late 2nd century CE. How appropriate, therefore, for the Messiah to be buried in the personal tomb prepared for a man of such power and wealth as Joseph of Arimathea.

The apprehensive sealing and guarding of the tomb by the priests and Pharisees present a striking contrast to the gentle solemnity of the burial by Jesus’ friends. But at that point did anyone really believe that the resurrection would occur? Matthew makes a point of noting the date: “the next day, that is, after the Day of Preparation.” That would have been the Sabbath according to the time-line of his Passion narrative.

Was this an indication that the chief priests and Pharisees regarded the need to secure the tomb as a very urgent matter?

One commentator noted that this passage along with 28:11-16 were two parts of a legend more fully elaborated in the apocryphal Gospel of Peter in the 2nd century. (Sherman E. Johnson. The Interpreter’s Bible. vii.713.) Both stories may have been part of the oral tradition from earlier times. The presence of an authorized guard negated the chief priest’s devious plot to counter the common Christian tradition. Matthew used the incident as the prelude to his witness to the resurrection and the two post-resurrection appearances to the disciples.

JOHN 19:38-42

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(Alternate) John includes Nicodemus along with Joseph of Arimathea in his brief report of the burial. Joseph’s provision of the tomb (although John does say it belonged to Joseph) and amount of spices Nicodemus brought points to the depth of their commitment. Their fear of the Jews which had forced them to conceal their discipleship was a very human trait and understandable, considering their public status. Would we not have done the same in such hostile circumstances?

Despite the claims still being made in 2007, archeologists have never located any specific tomb as the actual burial site. However, this description lends some greater authenticity to the Garden Tomb outside the Damascus Gate shown to tourists rather than the traditional site in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. (See both at: http://www.gardentomb.com/; and http://www.bibleplaces.com/holysepulcher.htm.)

Tourists visiting either site bring their own particular devotional biases with them. Personally, I found the Garden Tomb very attractive and believable even though its history is much more recent. Greatly improved since its accidental discovery in 1867 and purchased in 1893 by a British trust, the Garden Tomb Association, without question it presents a compelling but not irrefutable likeness to the garden John identified in vs. 41. The long history of pilgrimages since the 4th century CE, the elaborate architecture and liturgical decoration of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre confirms that each visitor is moved by whatever his or her tradition espouses as the burial place of Jesus. Yet both also lead to the historic affirmation of the Apostles Creed: “[he] was crucified, dead and buried; … on the third day he rose again ….”

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