Holy (and Wholly Misunderstood) Saturday
From the Wiki on Holy Saturday, called The Holy Sabbath in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition:
Prayer from that liturgy:
Today Thou dost keep holy the seventh day,
Which Thou has blessed of old by resting from Thy works.
Thou bringest all things into being and Thou makest all things new,
Observing the Sabbath rest, my Saviour, and restoring strength.
Holy Saturday is the least understood celebration during Holy Week. There is great emphasis on Holy (Maundy) Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, but without Holy Saturday there is not yet the depth of entrance in the cosmic process of The Paschal Mystery. [The Eastern tradition of Christianity retains this dimension, largely lost in Western Christianity].
By going from death on Good Friday straight to Resurrection on Easter Sunday, the process is taken to be very individualistic and the grief cycle and the entire train of the religious movement are not embodied: caught between heaven and earth (Good Friday), laid in the tomb and descended to the dead/hell (Holy Saturday), raised from the dead (Sunday).
The essential key of Holy Saturday is found in the prayer above: it is the Great Sabbath.
The Great Sabbath links to the Jubilee, the cycle of Seven Sabbath years (7 cycles of 7 years=49/50th year), when the land will lie fallow, the slaves released, and God will sacrifice himself (Yom Kippur) in order to bring Atonement and Re-Creation (i.e. Redemption) to the entire Universe.
The Tomb is one pole whose equal and opposite is the creation of the Universe. As God rested on the 7th day of Creation, so God now rests in death on the 7th day. God’s life in human flesh in the character of Jesus of Nazareth (according to this story’s framework) is now fulfilled. Just as the completion/fulfillment of prayer lies in silent repose, the completion of the Incarnation lies (literally) in The Tomb.
While it would seem God has failed, that Death has won the ultimate victory killing even God, the truth (so this day proclaims) is otherwise.
A new creation will be born. Death is defeated by its over-reach.
The Cosmic Jubilee on this day is announced to Hell, i.e. to the Dead.
Easter Sunday then becomes the 8th Day of Creation. A new Adam Paul will say. A new humanity (The Body of Christ, The Corporate Body of the 8th Day, the Church of the 8th or Resurrected Day) is called to walk in this world.
The late great Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote movingly of Holy Saturday.
Balthasar picks up on theme of hell in ancient pagan writings. Think for example of Odysseus in hell, meeting the shades. There is a mania about the place, a frenzy, a confusion, a dis-integration. For Balthasar, Jesus on Holy Saturday loses all personality and succumbs to the state of modern, anemic souls, lost in the isolation of industrialized existence, full of isolation and meaningless. Jesus enters into the godless state of our existence. He is no more. Dis-membered. Un-articulated both physically and spiritually.
Only to be re-membered and re-vivified by The Father through the power of The Holy Spirit on Easter Sunday. To be born into a new universe of life and discourse, a new bodily body and language, an 8th day existence.
But for today, the Great Sabbath pointing towards the hope for an Ultimate Sabbath, when all of the land, when the very heart of creation will experience liberation.