John 19:38–42 (NRSV)
38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. 39 Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. 40 They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
Holy Saturday. What exactly took place? Did something take place that is unbeknownst to us because it takes place in a realm we are unfamiliar with?
The creeds say that Jesus descended to the dead. But why?
Four possibilities have been forwarded for what took place between 3pm on Friday and Sunday morning.
- went and preached to those who had died prior to his time so they may be united with him.
- overthrew Satan and all evil.
- descended to the dead simply is symbolic of his incarnation and humiliation.
- was buried.
Whatever happened, this we know for sure. Jesus knows the totality of our experience. There is not a mountaintop or valley that we travel that is foreign to Jesus. He has literally been there and done that. He is a co-journeyer and not a consultant. Jesus is committed to walking with us and not simply dropping knowledge on us or painting a pretty picture. And there is no place he won’t go. Holy Saturday expresses that Jesus is willing to go to the grave for and with us. And that means he is always willing to go into those places we wish didn’t happen. And even those sinful actions that are so out of character for us that they seems like an outer-body experience.
Lord Jesus, as strange as it may sound, thank you for going to the grave in my place. And thank you for walking with me every moment. Prepare my heart for the day of Resurrection by grounding me in the reality that the grave is a place you are familiar.
If you’d like to listen to a recent sermon on Jesus descending to the dead you can listen here. Sermon “Descended to the Dead.