Easter is not just the most important season of the year for the Christian, it's also the busiest – ask any church leader. So, in the space of a single week, a church can have a Palm Sunday service, a communion or Lord's supper on the Thursday, a Good Friday service and then, with a mere day's pause for breath, an Easter Sunday celebration. This week-long intensity of activity echoes the enormous emphasis the Gospels place on the events that occurred in Jerusalem that first Easter week.
In this week, buried almost out of sight between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, comes the day that although some church traditions prefer to refer to as 'Holy Saturday' is now almost universally called Easter Saturday. The Saturday of Easter is a day that is easily overlooked. For one thing there is very little mention of it in the Bible; after all, as the Jewish Sabbath it was a day of rest. Yet there is more than this behind its neglect. It is surely that, compared to the sorrowful darkness of Good Friday and the joyful brilliance of Easter Sunday, this Saturday is quite simply a 'grey day'; indeed, it is the ultimate in grey days.
Think about how it must have felt to Jesus' followers. It would have been a day marked by dejection. Those who had come with Jesus to Jerusalem had brought with them enormous hopes and expectations; Good Friday took every hope they had and utterly destroyed them. Any lingering belief that Jesus would suddenly turn the tables on his opponents and, at the last minute, reveal himself to be the majestic king of glory was bitterly and cruelly extinguished in the worst possible way.
It would have been a day marked by frustration. For Jesus' followers, Good Friday was not simply a savage blow to the heart but also one to the mind. Amid their sorrows the saddest of questions would have sounded: 'Now what?' If yesterday had been a tragic disaster, tomorrow was no better. With all their hopes in ruins they must have been utterly bewildered.
It was, too, a day marked by oppression. The only incident the Bible recounts on the Saturday is a significant one. Matthew 27:62–66 tells us that the religious leaders arranged with Pilate, the Roman governor, to have the tomb guarded. The bitterly opposed powers of religion and government united to ensure that Jesus remained dead and buried.
For Jesus' followers, then, that Saturday must have been the greyest of days and in our Easter thinking it is easy to dismiss it and to fast forward to the resurrection joy of Sunday. Yet in contemplating Easter Saturday, I find something familiar about it. It seems to me to be a picture of where many, or most of us, spend a lot of our time.
To various degrees we all experience dejection, frustration and oppression. After all, there is much to be dejected about. We look around and see that the world's a mess, that good people are getting a rough deal for being good, and that bad people are doing very nicely despite being bad. There is much that frustrates us. Indeed, the more idealistic you are, the more frustrating the world is.
We dream dreams and make plans but discover that events prevent them happening. We come up with goals and ambitions but, all too often, find that they end up beyond our reach. There is much, too, that oppresses us. It is hard even trying to be a good person in our world. Many Christians are particularly conscious – perhaps increasingly so – of being discriminated against, marginalised and, in many countries, persecuted. We who believe that at the cross Christ defeated the powers of sin, death and hell are often disappointed in not seeing that victory when and where we need it.
Many of us have times when we feel we can identify with how Jesus' followers must have felt on that Easter Saturday.
If you can identify with this Easter Saturday experience it's important to see it in perspective. The great and wonderful news is that in Jesus, it's not the end of the story. Easter Saturday is not grey because the terrible shadow of Good Friday falls upon it; it is grey because the glory that is Easter Sunday has not yet shone upon it.
But it will. This is a day that is not so much the day after Good Friday, as the day before Easter Sunday. For the believer, the triumph of Easter Sunday is never far away. Whether we go to be with our Lord, or he comes to us first, does not matter. The cross has defeated sin, death and hell, and all that remains is for its full and glorious triumph to be unveiled. Every believer in Christ can be confident that, however grey today is, it will give way to glory tomorrow.
Hang on in there and stay faithful. Dawn is about to break and the King is on his way!
Rev Canon J.John is an evangelist and director of the Philo Trust