Summary: The Church meditates on the resting of Christ in the grave on Holy Saturday.
Homily for Holy Saturday 2016
Our celebration of Tenebrae today puts us back into the second day, the day after Jesus’s death, Jesus’s one sacrifice on the Day that Changed the World. It is a day of reflection. The tabernacle in this chapel is empty. The Blessed Sacrament has been moved into a kind of hiding place in another part of the church to symbolize the day between the sacrifice and the exaltation of Christ. Our Office shows Christ, however, as the principal actor in the drama that brought life out of death. Christ sings with us “in peace, I will lie down and sleep.” The psalm we ordinarily use as our night prayer is used to symbolize the laying of Jesus’s body in the grave: “I will lie down in peace and sleep comes at once, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” It took an act of supreme faith for the human nature of Jesus to accept death as the will of the Father. It takes an act of faith for us to go to sleep each night, knowing there is a chance we might not live through the night. But the greatest act of faith is to look forward to our inevitable death to this life and believe that there is more–far more than this life of pain, anxiety and sickness. We have faith and hope that there will be an ultimate victory of God’s justice and mercy over our sinfulness and mortality.
We also sing psalm 16, which the Apostles used as a launching pad for many sermons. David’s psalm says confidently: “my heart rejoices, my soul is glad; even my body shall rest in safety. For you, Lord, will not leave my soul among the dead, nor let your beloved know decay.” They argued that David died, and his dead body decayed. So the psalm must have been written about the Son of David, the Son of Man, the Son of God, Jesus, who rose on the third day, the day on which all corpses showed strong evidence of corruption. Jesus did not know corruption. He was the victor over death and decay. Because we are baptized in Him, because we share frequently His risen Body and Blood, we can have confidence that our death is not an ending, but a transition into an eternal life in the arms of the Father, in the arms of our Mother, Mary.
Our morning psalms conclude with the great hymn of triumph, psalm 150, in which we ask everything that makes a sound to give praise to the Lord–trumpets and lutes and harps and cymbals and strings and pipeorgans. Our antiphon is the triumphant cry of Jesus, “I was dead, but now I live forever, and I hold the keys of death and of the nether world.”
One final point I would like to make before concluding our time together and waiting for the great Easter Vigil: Jesus claimed before His passion that like Jonah, He would be three days and nights in the belly of the earth. Some say that this is not true: Jesus was in the earth on what we call Friday night and Saturday night only. So that’s two nights and three days. But a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with a Christian guide will show how wrong that is. In the court of the Jewish High Priest, Caiphas, where Jewish prisoners were kept, there is an ancient cistern, which had been allowed to dry up and was used to hold prisoners. You can go down there and experience the terrifying darkness of the place where Jesus was certainly kept on what we call Thursday night before his trials before Pilate and Herod. Jesus was right–three days and nights in the belly of the earth.
So listen again to the promise of Jesus as he led Adam and Eve forth from prison: “The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven.” We await the hour when our catechumens are welcomed into the Church by symbolically dying in the baptistry and rising to new life, when they are anointed with the chrism of Christians and share with us in the Eucharist of Christ. We give praise to God who always keeps His promises to His faithful ones, whose loving kindness and mercy endures forever.