Lenten Daily Devotionals

The Great Sabbath

Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. —Luke 23:50-56

On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

For weeks we have traveled the journey of Lent, and now we are finally near the end. From acknowledging our human finitude on Ash Wednesday to mourning Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday, the Lenten journey is not for the faint of heart. It can be a dark and winding road, full of sorrowful twists and humbling turns.

The path to Easter is not easy one to travel. But the part of this journey I find the most difficult to observe is Holy Saturday. There will be no services at church on this day. No liturgies to describe what I am feeling or rituals to busy myself with. In place of ceremonial activity is Sabbath rest—the last thing I would ever want to do after the death of a loved one.

Yet that is exactly what happened. Mere hours after the spectacle of Jesus’ death, a man named Joseph of Arimathea quietly asked for Jesus’ broken body to prepare it for burial by wrapping it in linen cloths and gently laying it in the tomb. Then Jesus’ beloved friends prepared spices and ointments. And after all of that, because it was Sabbath, they rested.

I guess it makes sense. In the face of the finality of death, what can mere mortals do but rest? Unlike so many things in our lives that we can control, death stops us where we are and forces us into a place of submission, an act of stillness, a time of Sabbath. Even as we mourn and remember the loss of loved ones, there is ultimately nothing we can do to change the fact that death spares no one, not even Jesus Christ, our Lord.

But on Holy Saturday, we rest in the knowledge that death is only near the end of our journey, while abundant and eternal life are the end of our journey. On this Great Sabbath, as we mourn the death of our Savior, let us also rest. Rest in the goodness of a God who died for our sins. Rest in the greatness of a God who rises again in glory.

God of holy rest, as we stand at the end of our Lenten journey, we cease our striving and laboring and rest in your abundant goodness. Even in death, we can rest in the knowledge that your faithfulness, power and love carry us beyond this life, beyond the grave, and into blissful union with you. Amen.

The Rev. Dr. Charlene Han Powell is the executive pastor of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church.

Marc Chagall, Cemetery Gates, 1917