In the dark day of waiting between Good Friday and Easter, I would like to share with you what I wrote about Holy Saturday for “Walk in Her Sandals: Entering Christ’s Passion through the Eyes of Women.” The following excerpt appears by permission of Ave Maria Press:
Scripture is nearly silent about Holy Saturday. It’s as if with the death of our Lord, everything stops. There is a flurry of preparation in the short time between his death and the start of the Sabbath: Joseph of Arimathea wraps the body of Jesus carefully and lays it in a new tomb not far from the cross. The women prepare aromatic oils and spices but there is no time to anoint the body, and they retire to their homes. Meanwhile, the chief priests and Pharisees get Pilate to seal the tomb and mount a Roman guard. A profound silence begins.
It is a time of waiting and rest. How fitting that the Lord’s death would usher in the Sabbath! God rested after his creative work; now Jesus rests after his redemptive work. The Father rests, the Son rests, and the world rests … and waits … for the revelation of redemption.
Luke punctuates the time between burial and resurrection with a single line: “On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment” (Lk 23:56). It is a pause pregnant with tension. “It is not finished” as far as anyone who lives is concerned.
We can imagine the Jewish leaders pacing in their robes, grimly glad to have seen the end of this rabble-rouser yet wondering if the disciples will make a move to steal the body. Will the guard hold? Will the man be made a martyr and ignite more discontent?
We can see the apostles cowering in a locked room. Their Lord was crucified. Will they be next? We can see the women hugging their shawls around themselves, absorbed in grief and painful questions even as they try to observe the Sabbath. We can imagine them checking the spices again and again, making sure there are enough. We can see them tossing in their beds, then waiting by the door ready to pick up those spices the moment the sky announces the end of the Sabbath. There will be no delay in caring for their beloved.
And Mary? Where is she? John tells us that from the hour of Jesus’s death, he “took her to his own home.” We can see John, the disciple Jesus loved, and Mary, who undoubtedly loved Jesus more than life itself — two who were joined as family by Jesus’s final act on the cross — observing that Sabbath together. I would like to have been the proverbial “fly on the wall” in John’s house that day. When people love and are loved like those two were, what do the hours after the loved one’s death look like?
Surely they mourned. That day was horrific and they are human, after all. Yet Mary has been formed by decades of pondering. God promised to give her a son who would be called the Son of the Most High and who would reign forever. God filled her empty womb with blazing life. She was warned that a sword would pierce her soul (Lk 2:35). She has known her son is “about his father’s business.” Surely she heard Jesus predict his death and resurrection. Surely she heard the report from Martha, that Jesus raised Lazarus and said “I am the resurrection and the life.”
Perhaps Mary tells John the words of the angel: “Nothing is impossible with God.” Two thousand years earlier, an angel said those same words to Abraham and Sarah about another impossible child, who later had reason to ask “where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” Abraham offered his promised son, knowing that God could raise him to life if necessary (See Heb 11:19). Did John and Mary think of that, and ponder?
For his part, John is “the beloved disciple” who rested on Jesus’ breast at the Last Supper. He saw Jesus raise Jairus’s young daughter to life (Mk 5). He was an eyewitness of the transfiguration and heard God say from the cloud, “This is my beloved Son.” He was with Jesus in his agony in the garden and was the only apostle who stayed by him to the end.
John and Mary do not seem to have been present when Joseph buried Jesus, and Mary doesn’t seem to have taken part in preparing the spices. Perhaps they knew there was something deeper going on. They may have welcomed the Sabbath. It freed them from other obligations, allowed them to ponder together just what Jesus’s death might mean. It would be natural for them to repeat and discuss his final words:
“Today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:42-43)
He said that to a thief! Was he, then, in paradise? Does his kingship involve bringing people there?
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46)
These words give no room for hatred or revenge against the authorities. Jesus offered his own life! Maybe John told Mary Jesus’s words at the Last Supper: “This is my body, broken for you […] This is my blood of the new covenant…” Maybe those cryptic words began to make sense. What they had witnessed was not an execution. It was a perfect sacrifice.
Maybe John shared with Mary other things Jesus said at the Last Supper, things he would later write in his gospel:
“Now I am going to him who sent me. . . .
…You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world. So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. . . . I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:5, 20-23, 33).
Did these things infuse their mourning with hope?
“It is finished,” Jesus said before he died (Jn 19:30).
What is finished? The work Jesus came to do. His “hour” – like the hour of the woman in labor – had come. Hidden away in the womb of the tomb, new life was about to burst forth.
[…] Every Holy Saturday, the Church waits as it were beside the tomb, meditating on Christ’s death while awaiting announcement of his resurrection. Like John, we can take Mary into our homes and ponder with her the last words of Christ. Like her, we can rest in a place between anguish and joy, waiting in quiet hope. … The King is not dead, he rests from his work. A new day will come. His Cross is not defeat, it is victory!
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Walk in Her Sandals brings together Scripture reflection, biblical historical fiction, insights into the God-given gifts of femininity, and the reflections of modern-day Catholic women to draw women deeper into an experience of Christ’s Passion, death, and Resurrection. It was written for WINE: Women in the New Evangelization by ten leading Catholic women authors and is published by Ave Maria Press. You can read more about it here: