The Saturday before Easter is an interesting day in the liturgical calendar of the Christian churches. It has been referred to by a variety of names depending on the liturgical tradition of the church one is considering. In some, it is known as Great and Holy Saturday, Great Sabbath, Saturday of the Gloria, and Black Saturday. [Source]
A couple of the customs practiced in some form throughout the various liturgical traditions is the use of black linens to cover whatever might adorn the table or altar at the front of the church. There is also the practice of stripping the sanctuary of any and all items that might usually be present during a regular service.
In those churches where these practices are not performed, the significance may be lost. But on that first Saturday after Jesus’s crucifixion, it had to have been a day of deep morning for the disciples. It was essentially a funeral day. One that could not be properly finished because it occurred on the Jewish Sabbath.
So the act of removing all signs and symbols of the faith from the sanctuary of the church or covering it with black linen is to represent both the despair and the questioning that must’ve happened to the disciples. We have the benefit of knowing what happened on Sunday morning. But for them, there was no guarantee of resurrection.
For the entire history of the human journey upon the earth, death has marked the transition from life into the unknown. Our inability to know what exists on the other side of death’s door can cause many to fear. And rightfully so. There is no greater uncertainty than what happens next after this life is over.
This is why Jesus’s promise is so revolutionary. It gives us hope that if he was able to travel through that door and return then we too will be able to do the same if we go with him.
As we commemorate the waiting the disciples did on that first Saturday before Easter, I would invite you to consider the void they must’ve felt at the thought and reality of the death of Jesus. Like all who have lost people they love, the disciples must’ve felt quite lost and filled with despair as they mourned. But while they waited with not much certainty of what would happen just a few hours later, we can rejoice in the fact that Sunday morning is just around the corner.
But today, on this Holy Saturday, we wait.
We wait and we remember how death threatened to destroy the hope of the disciples. And we consider how death could destroy our hope if it had not been defeated by the resurrection of Jesus.