Holy Saturday Matins
March 31, 2018
Matthew 27:57–66 (ESV)
57When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus.
58He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him.
59And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud
60and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away.
61Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
62The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate
63and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’
64Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.”
65Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.”
66So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.
O Lord, have mercy
We have laid Jesus into the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. We have made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man in His death although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
We dare not externalize these events. As though the only criminals were Judas and Caiphas and Pilate. You should believe, and never doubt that you are in fact the one who killed Christ. Your sins did this to Him.
“This is an important point. If we do not see ourselves as the persecutors of Christ in the passion narratives, then we read them wrongly. As the disciples failed to keep watch with the Lord in Gethsemane, we too in sloth ignore him. As Judas betrayed him with a kiss, so in our thoughts, words, and deeds we betray him daily. We reject him like Peter, wash our hands of him like Pilate, call for his death like the crowds, and lead him out to Golgotha. We crucify him and hurl insults at him as he hangs dying on the cross.” We kill not only the God who made us but also the God who came seeking us, pleading with us, who loves us, the God who let us kill Him that we not be destroyed.
Even as we internalize these accounts and see ourselves in them, we must also be careful that we do not turn this into mere subjectivism. Our goal is not to whip ourselves into some emotional frenzy of suffering.
Our goal is to know God as He wants to be known, to be drawn to Him as He lifted up and behold His grace. If we are the responsible parties in these horrible events, so also we are the beneficiaries. God has borne the punishment for our sin. He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We see in the cross not only God’s anger at sin, not only our fault and failure, but we also see His immeasurable love for sinners.
Holy culminates in the darkness of Good Friday’s eclipse. This was signified by the stripping of the altar and the gradual extinguishing of the lights on Maundy Thursday. It was bare in here on Friday and even now it is dark. On Friday, the cross came back in. It was unveiled before us that we might look upon this great reminder of God’s glory. He was crucified for us our transgressions and made Himself a sacrifice for our salvation. Already on Good Friday, and even now, the sanctuary lamp burns. Its small flame signifies hope in the midst of darkness. Our God died but He is not dead. He slept in the tomb on Saturday. On Sunday He rose. The guards cannot keep His tomb secure. Pilate and the priests plot in vain.
We must let the Passion narratives of Scripture do their work and terrify us with the Law. But we must turn at length to the light of the Gospel. This is the Law’s desire and proper work to show us our need for a Savior. Let it do its work and then hear Christ calling for even as we crucified Him He prayed “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). He prayed on the cross not just for those immediately present. He prayed there for you. In the midst of His sorrow, He prayed for your forgiveness. And the prayer of a righteous man availeth much. So we must see our sins laid on Christ but we must also see Him triumph by His Resurrection. We never contemplate the cross without the light of His victory and promise. This is how we know God as He wants us to know Him. We know Him not by His power and wisdom, which terrify us, but by His goodness and love. There our faith and confidence stands unmovable.