It’s Easter Saturday — the day after we commemorate the death of Jesus. Jesus is in the grave. It’s the Sabbath, the day of rest, so his friends cannot embalm him, or prepare for a funeral — it would go against Jewish law. But how necessary was that enforced rest for them. They must have been exhausted with shock and grief.
Just one week ago they had danced in a joyful parade, ushering Jesus into Jerusalem on a donkey — the sign of a king coming in peace. Throngs of people lay palm branches before him, singing, “Hosanah! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
But now he was dead. How deeply they must have grieved when they saw Jesus die on that cross — and with him, their hopes of the kingdom of God. Jesus had often talked to them about God’s kingdom, saying it was at hand, it was near. They took this literally, envisioning him overthrowing the Roman occupation and becoming the new King of Israel, like his forefather David. (Lately, Jesus had often also told them that he must die, then would be resurrected, but it was such a crazy story they didn’t take it literally; it just washed over their heads.)
So it was into an appropriately darkened church that I entered on Saturday night, to continue retracing the paschal events of the first Easter long ago. Only street lights shining into the stained glass windows illuminated our path to the pews. People waited quietly, prayerfully, until the choirs lifted up a lament. In the dark, we relied on the choir and cantor to lead us. We were without light, without direction, in solidarity with the mourning disciples.
Then the priest lit a fire to give us light. From it he lit the Christ candle, from which were lit all of our tapers. The dim light allowed us to find our way gingerly, joining in the words of the prayers and hymns by candlelight. The light got brighter and brighter as we approached morning, when Jesus arose from the dead. The physical light mirrored the spiritual light, which that great and glorious morning shed on our path. Jesus, the light of the world, throws the world, dark in its understanding, into spiritual light.
Around midnight, when we relived the resurrection of Jesus, choirs, cantors and organ rose in tumultuous praise. Before and behind us, voices rose in victory; the congregation rang bells and song, giving God the glory! Priests and deacons took their tapers, and reignited all the candles that had been extinguished in sorrow. Our hearts burned within us with the renewed light of Christ.
“Oh death, where is your victory? Oh hell, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’” (The Bible, I Corinthians 15:55-57, 54).
Praise be to God!