Waiting in the Tomb: A Holy Saturday Liturgy

The most neglected day of Holy Week (arguably) is Holy Saturday. The weekend is so busy, that most churches are in the habit of holding a Good Friday service, and then jumping over Holy Saturday to land with confidence on Easter Sunday. It’s hard enough to get our congregations to come to two services in a weekend… three in a row seems insurmountable. But there are things we miss in skipping over the Sabbath between cross and stone-rolled-away. There is purpose in taking a day to reflect on a full tomb… before we proclaim it empty. We need to feel the liminal space of Holy Saturday to understand the liminal spaces in our own lives. (For more on this, here is a previous post on Holy Saturday as liminal space.) So I offer you this Holy Saturday liturgy. It could be shared with your congregation virtually on Saturday, or adjusted for the close of a Good Friday service (to lead us into the in-between space of Holy Saturday). I would suggest you read the Scripture passage aloud first, and indicate before hand that there will be some moments of silence throughout the liturgy (indicated with “pause”)–encouraging your congregation to use those moments of silence to reflect on Christ in the tomb, and to stand with those who moved through that particular Sabbath not expecting Easter morning.

Jewish graveyard on the Mt. of Olives

Luke 23: 50-56 / Psalm 27

50 Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God.

52 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. 54 It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.

55 The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. 

But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.

Leader: Today, we recognize that the tomb is full. We wait, with Joseph of Arimathea, for the kingdom of God. We stand vigil, witnesses by the tomb of Christ with the women of Galilee, and mourn that he is dead.

Wait for the Lord;

be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

Leader: We wait through that long Sabbath day with Mary, and Peter, and Joseph, and all those who followed Christ—who did not expect him to lead them to a cross, who never expected him to be laid in a tomb. We sit in silence now, and think about what that long day was like for them: a day of rest—no work to distract; a day of Scripture and prayer—without Jesus to interpret and teach; a day of celebration and family—with an absence at the table. We wait through this long Sabbath with those who experienced the fullness of the tomb on that particular Sabbath day.

            Pause for a minute of silence.

Leader: We feel your death, Jesus. We feel the tomb full, and say to each other:

Wait for the Lord;

be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

Leader: We wait in darkness. We acknowledge the darkness of the world around us: its wars, its hate, its hunger, its mis-ordered desires. We acknowledge the darkness within and among us: our own mis-ordered desires, our doubt, our depression, our despair.

            Pause

Leader: We feel the tomb full, and say to each other:

Wait for the Lord;

be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

Leader: We wait in sadness. We acknowledge the sadness of the world around us: its sickness, its grieving, its inequality. We acknowledge the sadness within and among us: our losses, our missed opportunities, our deep grief.

Pause

Leader: We feel the tomb full, and say to each other:

Wait for the Lord;

be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

Leader: We wait in fear. We acknowledge the fear of the world around us: its injustice, its instability, its distrust. We acknowledge the fear within and among us: our fear of scarcity, our fear of loss, of pain, of missing out, of being found out, our fear of death.

Pause

Leader: We feel the tomb full, and say to each other:

Wait for the Lord;

be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

Leader: We wait in darkness, sadness, and fear. But we do not wait without hope.

The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?

Leader: When the wicked advance to devour, it is them who will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege, and war break out around us, even then we will be confident.

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek:

that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.

In the day of trouble he will lift me out of the tomb

and set me high upon a rock.

He will keep me safe in his dwelling.

Leader: So, as we wait in the tomb together with the body of our Lord—let us acknowledge the darkness, the sadness, the fear—but let us also allow him to fill our in-between spaces with his glory.

Teach us your way, Lord;

Leader: Let him guide, and direct, and shape us even as we wait.

Lead us on a road that is straight.

Leader: Let us acknowledge Christ entombed—help us understand that he really died, that he was buried. But let us stand vigil in that tomb with confidence.

We remain confident of this:

we will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Leader: Let us wait, in silence, in sorrow, in darkness, in pain… but let us wait knowing that the light is coming.

Wait for the Lord;

be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

An empty first-century tomb near Jerusalem.

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