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Holy Saturday

Matthew 27:57-66

There are two disparate materials in this selection. The first, verses 57-61, is an expression of kindness and love shown to the body of Jesus by Joseph, a relatively rich man from Arimathea. The second, verses 62-66, depicts the chief priests and the Pharisees as gaining permission from Pilate to have guards stationed at the tomb of Jesus to make certain that Jesus’ body will remain there. The materials in verses 57-61 are edifying and appropriate for consideration on this Saturday, when we are experiencing with the early disciples of Jesus the sadness of facing the reality of Jesus’ death. There is nothing that is edifying or appropriate for our use in the second account. It and its sequel in Matthew 28:4, 11-15 are malicious polemic against the Pharisees, developed and included only by the Matthean reactors. Matthew 27:62-66 and 28:4, 11-15 provide for us in narrative form information about the animosity that developed between some of the Matthean redactors and Pharisees with whom some of the Matthean redactors were having many experiences of frustration over not being able to “convert” Pharisees to the theological position of the Matthean redactors. They provide neither historical information, nor theological information that we can use as we, together with the early disciples of Jesus, experience the sadness of facing the reality of Jesus’ death, a sadness that we should feel on Holy Saturday.

Therefore, it is regrettable that Matthew 27:62-66 and 28:4, 11-15 are included in our New Testament documents. It is even more regrettable that they are included in our lectionary. Since they are included in the lectionary, I suggest that we have four viable responses. We can read these verses and use nothing from them in our sermon or homily. We can read them and express in our sermon or homily that we regret that that are in the text and that they are in the lectionary. We can read and use only the edifying and appropriate Matthew 27:57-61 portion. We can attempt to have the hateful verses no longer included in our lectionary.

John 19:38-42

For the reasons discussed above, the use of this text is much more appropriate than would be our use of Matthew 27:57-66. Here we have the Fourth Gospel’s version of the burial of Jesus, a version that includes Nicodemus, a figure who is included only in the Fourth Gospel within the New Testament, along with the man Arimathea from the Synoptic Gospels participating in the kind and loving action of providing an honorable burial of the body of Jesus. Here Nicodemus, described in John 3:1 as a prominent Pharisee and in John 7:5-52 as urging his fellow Pharisees not to judge Jesus unfavorably without listening to Jesus, is presented as bringing a large quantity of spices to place around the body of Jesus. This is the best account within the Four Gospels to read and to use in our worship services on Holy Saturday.

1 Peter 4:1-8

The message of this text, which includes references both to the suffering of Jesus as a human being and the proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus as the Christ, is in every way appropriate for our use on Holy Saturday, the day between the death of Jesus and the proclamation of his reappearing as the Risen Christ. It is also helpful that this text includes both proclamation of the good news of the resurrection of Jesus and parenesis (guidelines for living) that are to be expected of followers of Jesus, since our sermons and homilies should on most occasions include both of these elements and not one without the other.

Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16

The thoughts expressed in these portions of Psalm 31 can be applied to the situation of Jesus on Holy Saturday, as well as to us. The psalmist expresses resolute faith in the Lord God, asks to be rescued from the “hidden net,” and commits the psalmist’s spirit into the hands of God.

Job 14:1-14

This text also is appropriate for this Holy Saturday day of death. It is said, poetically, that the human life and that the human condition is short and fragile, like a flower, like a shadow, like a river the water of which evaporates on the dry sand, unclean. When a tree is cut, there will usually be a new, vibrant, green tree sprouting from its stump. If a man dies, however, it is entirely uncertain, from the perspective of reason, whether the man will ever live again. It may be implied that God has the power to change the human condition, but that hope is not expressed here.

Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-24

In terminology similar to that in Job, the writer of this portion of Lamentations expresses the distress into which God has placed the writer. Although there is no escape from the afflictions that God has brought upon the writer, because the writer believes in the faithfulness of God and in the mercies of God that are new every morning, there is hope. So also it was for Jesus, even as he died on the cross and was dead on Holy Saturday, and so also it is for us.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen