Holy Saturday – Easter Sunday
The Crucifixion had taken place at Golgotha, which was effectively at the edge of a kind of quarry which John dignifies as a “garden” (John 19:41-2) The Emperor Hadrian had the quarry filled in around 135 AD to offer a level site for a church to be built.
As Jesus was taken down from the Cross. His dead body was laid out on “The Stone of Unction” on which His body was anointed before it was laid in the tomb. (John 19:38 -40). This is the first site in the Basilica of The Holy Sepulchre. The aedicule (shrine within a church) which now surrounds the Tomb of Jesus is surprisingly close to Golgotha – hardly 50 metres away. On any normal day there are lines of pilgrims waiting to enter the Tomb. Inside the tomb is now an altar stone dating from the early 19th century. What would have been a catacomb was really destroyed by Hakim in 1009.
Again our interest should not be with the archaeology or history but with the events after Jesus was laid in the tomb:
“It was very early on the first day of the week and it was still dark, when Mary of Magdala came to the tomb. She saw that the stone had been away from the tomb and came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved. ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb,’ she said, ‘and we don’t know where they have put him.’ ….. Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”(John 20: 1 -3, 9)
When they saw the tomb was empty, Mary Magdalene stayed there and wept. The other disciples returned home. This may have been the very moment when the world changed for all of us. From this point onwards the descriptions are not of this world but of Jesus joined with His Father. All we are left with is the empty tomb.
The spirituality of the empty tomb is such an important part of the Christian faith. What if the body was still there? All would have been in vain… But there was no body, and the scripture are fulfilled. “”If there is no Resurrection of the dead, then Christ cannot have been raised, then our preaching is without substance, and so is our faith.” (1 Cor 15;13 -14)
Of course many doubted that He was Risen. Mary had to hear her name before she believed; Thomas needed to place his hand in the side of Jesus; the friends on the road to Emmaus discussing where He was; and so the list goes on.
Always Jesus is gentle with doubt.
As you have followed this journey until the time of the Resurrection you would normally join the crowds who gather at the Tomb on Holy Saturday evening to witness “The Miracle of The Holy Fire.” A tradition for the last 1,200 years is that on Holy Saturday evening the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem enters the Tomb alone. Outside crowds are pushing and chanting “Kyrie Eleison” … and everyone has an unlit candle. After some time the Patriarch emerges with a lit “fire” and the tradition is that it has come from God. (There is even a check to make sure there has not been a light hidden in the Tomb beforehand.) That “Holy Fire” is then used to light all the other candles in the Basilica, and fights break out to see who can be first to receive the fire. Very importantly it is carried to all the towns and villages in The Holy Land. Cars are ready with outriders to see how quickly the Holy Fire can be taken. People stand on the routes to be close to the cars as they race to the towns and villages. Christian churches are packed waiting for The Holy Fire to arrive and be the sign that indeed “He is Risen.”. It is also alleged that the flames of The Holy Fire will not burn, although I, personally, cannot vouch for that!
Today… another empty site in Jerusalem and a break in tradition because of the Covid-19 virus. The Holy Fire will appear, but not with the crowds present.
As for the disciples …Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matt 28 16- 20)
Might we have doubts? … Certainly; it is human.
In this world we might think we are indeed left with the empty tomb. This is the tomb of materialism, discord, pain and suffering. It is where the mortal remains of Jesus was laid. We have been on this journey to Easter so that we might live and be confident that Jesus is love and it is that which brings us light and hope. About that we should have no doubts.
As the final thought remember,
“I am with you always, to the end of the age.”