This blog entry was originally posted on 4-14-2017. It has been revised here.
The Gospels give us detailed records of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. But little about that Saturday. Silence.
On Good Friday, I think of the death.
I’ve never seen a body beaten and broken and bloody: muscles and ligaments exposed – thorn-torn – sword-stabbed – sagging from shredded hands – the breath of life snuffed out. My mind can only ponder it so far until my heart turns away in horror. Knowing I cannot truly imagine it. I dare not.
On Silent Saturday, I think of the torn temple curtain.
I have seen fabric torn: ragged edges – severed threads – irreparably damaged – destroyed.
That curtain was a magnificent work of art with an important temple function; a symbolic barrier as well as a physical one. It was 60 feet tall and 30 feet wide. Some historical records put it at four inches thick. It was so heavy that it took 300 priests to move it.
It had been made to keep people out of the Holy of Holies. Except on the Day of Atonement. Once a year, one high priest would go behind the curtain to sacrifice and burn incense. Not even Jesus went through the veil into the Holy of Holies of the temple before His death. He would have been killed.
He was killed. By having Him executed, the temple leaders unwittingly made a Door into the Holy of Holies.
That’s what happened as Jesus choked out His victory cry: “It is finished.” The temple curtain was torn from top to bottom. Get that: from top to bottom! God did what man could never do.
God – in an act that punctuated the finality of His Son’s work and declared the accomplishment of an ancient promise – tore the massive veil. Its purpose was over. The need for it was finished.
It’s one of my very favorite verses in the Bible (Matthew 27:51, also recorded in Luke and Mark): “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” Stunning.
Where does my imagination take me about that Saturday?
– The people of Jerusalem: I’m sure some were regretful, some were relieved, some were confused. Many had witnessed Jesus’ trial and execution. Many had demanded it. They had curiously taken in His teaching. They had eagerly accepted His miracles. They had hungrily fed on His bread and fish. But now they had become an angry mob, demanding His death. I know I would likely have been one of them. An earthquake had shaken their town. The day had become as night. It was the Feast of Unleavened Bread: the yearly reminder of all that Moses had recorded: God had freed them from brutal slavery and sustained them with daily manna. And He had made a covenant with them.
It was the Passover. Jesus’ last supper was a Passover meal. Jesus said: “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God. (Luke 22:15)” Jesus died at the same time as the priests were sacrificing the Passover lamb.
– Pilot, in frustration, had washed his hands – hoping to absolve himself. His wife probably still worried about her dark dream. Herod, in arrogance, had encouraged the mocking. What did they do that Saturday? Perhaps, breathe a sigh of relief. It was over.
– Barabbas – what did he do on that first day of his spared life? Perhaps he wondered at the injustice of it.
– The soldiers – one had had his ear severed and healed in the Garden. One had twisted sharp thorns into a crown – and jammed it into place. Some had hammered nails with all of their might. Many had mocked and joked. Several had gambled for His robe. They had blood on their hands. Some had recognized the King.
– Most of the high priests and temple leaders had gone about their Sabbath routines and Passover duties. They knew what to do that day: it was the high season of sacrificing and remembering God’s leading them out of Egypt. What did they think about their torn curtain? Mysterious. Terrifying. Two of them, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, had secretly buried Jesus on that Passover night.
– The disciples were hiding – devastated and traumatized. And hopeless. We dare not look back from our post-Easter reality at their first-hand fear. It’s understandable. If we hadn’t been the demanding mob, we would likely have been the hiding disciples.
– The women were waiting. Jesus, in His last earthly act of love, had turned His mother over to John; John had lead her to his home. Some of the other women had followed Jesus’ body to the tomb – zealously watching over Joseph and Nicodemus’s merciful ministrations over their loved one’s body. After seeing this – they went home and prepared their own burial spices. Then – according to the Sabbath command, they rested. What a restless rest it must have been. Did they doze a bit in the night amidst re-visiting all they had seen in the years they had followed Him? And re-living the memory of the past confusing days and last violent hours? And ponder that it was all over – He was dead – they had seen Him breathe His last. They had seen His dead body. Oh, how I admire those brave, tenacious, steadfast women. Waiting for the first rays of sun – obeying the Sabbath laws. They had a plan. When the Sabbath was over – they would gather their spices, wrap up in their cloaks, and go to the place. The spices were the aromatic expression of their hopelessness. But they were compelled. Because they heeded that tugging of their hearts, they got to be the first to see Him.
– And the battered Body wrapped in spices in a clean linen shroud. Buried in the dark. Torn head. Crushed hands. Pierced side. Stilled heart. Emptied lungs.
Silent. Behind a huge stone – sealed with a Roman seal. Guarded by a Roman guard. Dead. One more day of death.
On this Silent Saturday, I think of the curtain – hanging as a tattered testimony that nothing would ever be the same. It was finished.
The old has passed away. The new has come. We are now His dwelling place. And He is our refuge.
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.
He will dwell with them,
and they will be his people,
and God Himself will be with them as their God.”
~ Revelation 21:3 – ESV