Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
I confess to you that, to me, Holy Saturday is a mysterious day. The verses which describe saints being raised from the dead and showing themselves around Jerusalem and the verses which speak of Christ’s descent to “preach to the captives” have never been adequately explained to me. But, I can live with that. It’s like Mark Twain said: “It’s not the things I don’t understand in the Bible that bother me, it’s the things I do understand!” Twain, familiar with the Scriptures, had become bitter due to the untimely death of his daughter. Well, I certainly don’t understand so much, but I do think we all understand enough to be accountable for the truth of God’s Word in our lives. So, saints appearing and Christ descending, tough to know; but, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” We have that, thankfully, and we must embrace that.
Holy Saturday seems a time of painful, sorrowful reflection over the earthshaking (literally) events of the previous day. Darkness (literally), tearing of the veil (literally), and a transaction between Father and Son delivered by the Spirit which has changed our status with God. On this side, we may rejoice. But, back then, before the Resurrection was known, this had to be a dark, dark day for the lovers of Jesus and His Promise.
There are no earthly comparisons to this upheaval, but I can try to relate to the sense of concern and imagined loss, followed by immense joy from one season of my life. I will tell it briefly…
My brother-in-law was in Vietnam. In November of 1965, his unit was in the first real pitched battle of the war between US and North Vietnamese regulars in the Ia Drang Valley. Jeanette (my big sis) used to receive letter after letter from Jim. But, when his unit marched into the Ia Drang, those comforting proofs that he was okay ceased. I watched the CBS news with Walter Cronkite every night, and during this time there were allusions to the battle, its ferocity and high casualty count. For a historical look at this battle, check out:
Even though I was only 14 and was not in any way a maturing Christian lad, I still prayed for Jim every night. I read Psalm 91 and prayed a very personal plea for his well-being as I went to bed every night. I did the same thing 5 years later when he is in Vietnam for a second tour and I was a freshman at Bradley.
And even though my life might have been in an uproar, I continued to pray for Jim. Only God knows why Jim was spared when so many were lost. At his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, an entire cadre of survivors of that battle shared with me personally this message, almost like they had practiced it, which they hadn’t: Jim Spires saved my life. I am so grateful for Jim. But, in November 1965 we didn’t know where Jim was… and his bride had just given birth to their second child, Ann, whom Jim had never seen. So, there was a lot of intense emotion in all of this. (You can learn about the first portion of the battle by watching the Mel Gibson movie “We Were Soldiers.” To learn about the entire battle and Jim’s role, read the memoir by Hal Moore, We Were Soldiers Once… and Young.
I don’t recall how long it was between letters for Jeanette. I know that it felt like an eternity. Finally, in some fashion, she learned that Jim had survived the battle. We were all ecstatic, but made no real fuss about it. Those days were less openly expressive than these days. Plus, he was still at war…
This is my recollection of concern allayed. The story of Jesus’ death and resurrection overwhelms my story. He did die. Brutally. He was buried. Securely… and guarded. He did rise from the dead into a new dimension of life – observably. But, on Holy Saturday, there were no letters, telegrams, or phone calls. There were no rumors of rising. There were only disappointed disciples and followers who thought that the investment of their hearts into His had been wonderful… and wonderfully disappointing. They went to sleep on Saturday night trying to shake off the horror and resume life again, without Jesus. Some even went back to fishing…
Clive says: “It ought to be noticed at this stage that the Christian doctrine, if accepted, involves a particular vie of Death. There are two attitudes towards Death which the human mind naturally adopts. One is the lofty view, which reached its greatest intensity among the Stoics, that Death ‘doesn’t matter’, that it is ‘kind nature’s signal for retreat’, and that we ought to regard it with indifference. The other is the ‘natural’ point of view, implicit in nearly all private conversations on the subject, and in much modern thought about the survival of the human species, that Death is the greatest of all evils: Hobbes is perhaps the only philosopher who erected a system on this basis. The first idea simply negates, the second simply affirms, our instinct for self-preservation; neither throws any new light on Nature, and Christianity countenances neither. Its doctrine is subtler. On the one hand Death is the triumph of Satan, the punishment of the fall, and the last enemy. Christ shed tears at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane: the Life of Lives that was in Him detested this penal obscenity not less than we do, but more. On the other hand, only he who loses his life will save it. We are baptized into the death of Christ, and it is the remedy for the fall. Death is, in fact, what some modern people call ‘ambivalent’. It is Satan’s great weapon and also God’s great weapon: it is holy and unholy; our supreme disgrace and our only hope; the thing Christ came to conquer and the means by which He conquered.”