Holy Saturday (April 11, 2020)
“Behold the Man: God Buried”
Behold the Man, dead. Behold the One mocked as an impostor king, crucified under the sentence of making Himself to be a King, whose reign is rejected by all people, whose closest disciples have deserted Him, who was betrayed by one of the twelve, who died a criminal’s cursed death. Behold His dead, lifeless body.
Behold two unlikely candidates to carry out the Jewish burial rites for this true King, not just of Jews but of Gentiles, too. Joseph of Arimathea is a wealthy member of the Jewish Sanhedrin and a secret disciple of Jesus, presumably afraid of what a public confession of Jesus as the true Messiah would mean for his position and standing in the community. Nicodemus is a Pharisee, who came to Jesus by night and was told that he must be born again by water and the Spirit if he is to see and enter the kingdom of God. It’s Joseph who has the political clout, as he asks Pilate for the body of Jesus and has his request granted. Nicodemus brings the exorbitant amount—seventy-five pounds—of myrrh and aloes. And Joseph offers his own new tomb in which to bury Jesus.
So with the perfuming ointment, linen to wrap the body, a freshly-cut tomb in which no one had ever been laid, and the body of their crucified Lord, they come to do what’s meet, right, and salutary. Behold the Man whom they had followed, albeit secretly. Behold the care they demonstrate for His body, which stands in sharp contrast with the way in which Jesus’ torturers treated His body just days before.
His work finished, on the seventh day of the week, God rested from His work of redeeming man, restoring creation, removing the effects of the curse. This is the final Sabbath. On Thursday, Jesus observed the last Passover, replacing the Seder with His new covenant, with the Supper. On Friday, Jesus was the last sacrifice, fulfilling the promise made by every innocent animal slain for the sins of men. On Saturday, Jesus fulfills the Sabbath. Even in the sleep of death, He keeps the Law perfectly. Not since God rested on the seventh day of creation has the Sabbath been so perfectly observed.
So may you rest in Him.
Behold the Man, who while Joseph and Nicodemus were caring for His body, in the sleep of death He was caring for theirs, too. And yours. Jesus isn’t buried for His sake any more than He died or rose for His sake. All of what He does, He does for you. He rests, He Sabbaths, because you do not. Who regards the hearing of God’s Word a holy obligation and a blessed opportunity to rest in the finished work of Jesus, as the Catechism instructs? If there is work to be done, games to be played, or pillows that are too comfy to abandon, the Sunday morning resting in the Word is the first thing to go. Or if the preacher is boring, the sermon too long, or the kickoff to early, even while your ears may be hearing the Word, you aren’t resting in it, receiving it gladly, and learning it. But Sabbath rest in the Word is not just for Sunday mornings (which have replaced Saturdays as days to hear the Word because Sunday is the day of resurrection). Sabbath rest is for your whole life. Sabbath is the opposite of American busy-ness, always striving, working, and rushing, but never being finished. The Psalmist declares, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep” (Ps. 127:2). Sleep is good. Rest is good. Receptivity to the Word of God is not just to be your Sunday morning posture, but your daily habit. Behold the Man who rests, who sleeps the sleep of death for you. Behold the Man who invites you to rest in Him.
On this Holy Saturday, Jesus rests. And while He rests in His grave, He, in His perfect stillness, secures for you a rest like His. When someday we take your dead body to its resting place—the word “cemetery” comes from a Greek word that means a “sleeping place”—your pastor will bless the piece of ground where you will sleep in the little sleep of death for a short while, saying, “O Lord Jesus Christ, by Your three-day rest in the tomb You hallowed the graves of all who believe in You, promising resurrection to our mortal bodies. Bless this grave, that the body of our brother may sleep here in peace until you awaken him to glory, when he will see You face to face and know the splendor of the eternal God, for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.” (LSB Agenda, Committal)
Behold the Man, who, while resting in His grave is also blessing yours. Behold the Man who by His death has broken death’s power over His creation. Behold the Man whose Sabbath sleep of death guarantees that death is nothing more than a little sleep. So Luther said that a Christian should “despise death and to regard it as a deep, strong, and sweet sleep, to regard the coffin as nothing but paradise and the very bosom of our Lord Christ, and the grave as nothing but a soft couch or sofa,” (LW 53, 326) … a place for a little nap.
So tonight, we gather wherever we are knowing what the morning holds. I’m not talking about tomorrow morning. I’m talking about the other one … the eternal Morning … the great Easter of our own resurrections, when the Lord who woke from the slumber of death, left the grave toothless behind Him, and who will do the same for you on the Day of His return.
Behold the Man who woke from the sleep of death and will wake you with a word on that eternal Easter morning. His rest in death reduces death to just a light sleep for you. His body resting in the grave has made holy the resting places of all the blessed dead who die with faith in Him, who in death rest with Him. Though He makes cemeteries and graves places of serene rest now, He will completely wreck them and make them the busiest nosiest places when He returns to wake the dead. Behold the Man who was dead for you and who rose for you. Behold the Man who alone gives you comfort in the face of death.
Based on a sermon series by the Rev. Jeff Hemmer