Saturday, April 23, 2011

Holy Saturday

Genesis 1:1-31; 2:1-2 / Exodus 14:24-31; 15:1 / Isaiah 4:2-6 / Deuteronomy 31:22-30 / Colossians 3:1-4 / Matthew 28:1-7

The work of Friday is done. Before the great Sabbath, Jesus has completed his work on the Cross. By the timely and pious intercession of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, the body of Christ has been taken from the Cross, wrapped in linens with myrrh and aloes, and laid in the Tomb. At sunset, there is nothing left to be done. Nothing indeed can be done. How could one honor him who said that not a jot or tittle would be taken from the Law, and yet fail to observe the Sabbath rest? The pious women, who risked so much to remain at the foot of the Cross understood this well. From sunset on Friday, through the whole of the Sabbath rest, and even through the dark hours of the evening which began the first day of the week, there was nothing to be done. It was only very early, in the morning after the Sabbath, that the women would come with myrrh to complete the anointing of Jesus' body, an anointing that had been rushed of necessity, in honor of the rest demanded by the very God who had died upon the Cross.

Yet, not all rests on the sabbath. The sabbath, after all, was made for man. The rest of the creation, the angels in heaven, but just as much the mute creatures of the universe, the light and darkness, the sun and moon and stars, the waters of the earth, under the earth, and above the heavens, the teeming fish and monsters that swim in the seas, the birds of the air and the creeping things upon the ground, the plants and trees, the beasts and cattle — the whole work of the six days of creation apart from man continue their daily round of activity without a moment's rest. Even so, in their inarticulate way apart from reason or knowledge, their work is not ignorant of the redemption worked by God in Jesus Christ.

On this day of vigil and watching, while we keep silent and recall Jesus Christ, laid in the Tomb and breaking the infernal gates of brass and cutting down the hellish bars of iron, we do well also to remember what the rest of the cosmos, in its ceaseless activity, has done and continues to do to bring us to life everlasting. Let us remember the mother bee, whose gift of wax, the labor of the whole year, she presents to the Church as her evening offering, the pure source of the new light to usher in the dawn of the new creation. Let us recall also the holy and innocent creature of water. It was water that served its Creator and his chosen people by defeating the hosts of Egypt. It was water that flowed from the fountain of paradise to give drink to the whole world in the four great rivers, water that sustained the people Israel from a rock in the desert and turned for them from bitterness to sweetness, water which heralded our own transformation in Christ in being transformed at the wedding feast in Cana, supported the Lord's feet upon the sea to test the disciples' faith, and washed his body to reveal the gift of Baptism and proclaim the Holy Trinity. It is water that continues to serve in holy and joyful obedience to bring the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve to new life in the font.

Let us also attend today to the whole of creation, the heavens and the earth, to whom Moses spoke and commanded that they serve as witnesses both to our pledge to follow the Lord and to our numberless failures to live up to that promise. Let us give thanks to the earth which yielded to the advent of the angel, and in its terrible quaking, announced the victory of the Lord over Hell. Let us bless the great stone at the mouth of the Tomb, the unwilling seal of the Lord's body now become, by heavenly prompting, the seat of angels, from which the Gospel of the Resurrection is first announced to the myrrh-bearing women.

Our Friday work is done, and the Church today joins the Synagogue in observing the Sabbath. We know in truth, as she knows only in figure as through a veil, that for all of its silence, for all of our holding back our hand from work, today the Lord and the rest of his creation are busy. From a simple drop of water and a humble bee through the very stars and the hosts of angels, the world is gladly at work to help us announce tonight the victory of the Lord over sin and death.

Attend, O heaven, and I will speak: and let the earth hear the words that come out of my mouth. Let my speech be expected like the rain: and let my words fall like the dew. Like the shower upon the grass, and like the snow upon the dry herb, because I will invoke the name of the Lord. Confess the greatness of our God: the works of God are perfect, and all His ways are justice. God is faithful, in Whom there is no iniquity: the Lord is just and holy.

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