Saturday, April 23, 2011

Holy Saturday

Perhaps the least-observed liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer is the Liturgy of the Word for Holy Saturday. On the nineteen consecutive Holy Saturdays during which I was a priest in charge of a congregation, I had a captive audience for this event, as I gathered the members of the Altar Guild for worship prior to their getting started decorating the church for Easter. It is somewhat ironic that, as a diocesan bishop, I no longer have such a captive audience, and I miss it. There is something sweet about this very brief "liturgy of the tomb." 

On each of these nineteen occasions, rather than delivering a homily of my own, I simply read this ancient anonymous sermon. You've no doubt seen it; I posted it in previous years, and it's rather ubiquitous in the Christian blogsphere today. But it's just as moving as it was the first time I encountered it. Wish I could preach like that! Drink it in.

Something strange is happening-there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

“He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ Christ answered him: ‘And with your spirit.’ He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.’

“I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

“For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

“See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

“I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

“Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.”

–From an ancient homily for Holy Saturday 


fr john7+ said...

I suspect you have cited this awful and quiet time for another group than the saintly members of those who tend to the Altar.
Having a priest who ignores silence and makes my responses for me, thanks for speaking on this day of so much silence. You still maintain your custom, only with hopefully a little larger group
John Tehachapi+

PadreTampa said...

Bishop Dan

Like you I have had a "semi" captive audience, the altar guild for about 15 years.

Because of the dynamics of this new church, I decided to anticipate Holy Saturday morning, by using the liturgy after Stations of the Cross on Good Friday [close to sunset].

The 2 liturgies went well together and for the first time I used the Holy Saturday Homily.

What a wonderful blessing.

Ed Scully+

Anonymous said...

Bishop Dan,

I followed your path for Holy Saturday with my Altar and Flower Guild last year, and it was a beautiful praying-into-the-silence event. I will keep on keeping on for many Holy Saturdays to come.

Thank you for again sharing!

Deacon Francie