Towards Easter

A short reflection for Holy Saturday from the Precentor

Holy Saturday (or Easter Even, as it is called in the Book of Common Prayer) is a day of waiting, and of looking in two directions at once – of looking back in sorrow to the crucifixion on Good Friday, and of looking forward in hope to the dawn of Easter Day. Even though it falls within Triduum Sacrum (the three most holy days in the history of our salvation), Holy Saturday can easily feel like an empty day, since the Gospels do not relate any events as having taken place on the day after the crucifixion. This is unsurprising, because Saturday was the Sabbath, when the people of Israel would have devoted themselves to worship and quiet reflection, and the disciples would have been in a numbed state of shock and bereavement after the brutal execution of Jesus.


This sense of looking in two directions at once was well expressed by Archbishop Michael Ramsey in his sermon for Easter Day 1972, which was subsequently published in his book Canterbury Pilgrim (SPCK 1974). It can serve us well as a meditation for Holy Saturday.

‘An Easter faith which is true is always a faith which includes the wounds of Calvary. When Christ was raised from the dead, it did not mean that the Cross was left behind. Far from it. The risen Christ is always the Christ who was once crucified. Cross and Resurrection go together.

Christian imagery and Christian art have portrayed this through the centuries. We recall pictures of the Crucifixion which show the kingly triumph, the majestic peace already breaking through the scene of death. We recall pictures of the risen Jesus which show the marks of sacrifice never effaced, and carried into the risen glory. And the art and the imagery convey deep truth. We can never know the risen Jesus and never serve him unless we face the reality of the Cross.

We must still repent of the sins which wound him, as our sins always do. We must still find him in those who suffer, as we go and serve him in them. Never can the notes of Calvary fade from the Church’s songs of victory.’



The Collect for Easter Eve


Grant, Lord, that we who are baptized into the death of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ may continually put to death our evil desires and be buried with him; and that through the grave and gate of death we may pass to our joyful resurrection; through his merits, who died and was buried and rose again for us, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

As an epilogue to his final book Fare Well in Christ, (Darton, Longman & Todd, 1997) W.H. Vanstone wrote a poem which views the dual focus of Holy Saturday through the eyes of a biblical character, and reflects on the themes of death and new life. As with much of Vanstone’s writing, the poem emphasises that the creative love of God cannot be exhausted or overcome by evil.


Joseph of Arimathea’s Easter


‘He’s gone,’ says Joseph, and, with Pilate’s leave

Eases the nails and lowers him from the Tree,

Wraps him in reverent and tender thoughts

And lays him in the cave called Memory.


That cave is deeply hewn in Joseph’s heart:

All that’s within will always be his own:

In memory’s cave the treasure of his past

Is safe for ever, walled and sealed by stone.


‘He’s safe,’ says Joseph, ‘safe in this cool place

And no one now can take my Lord away.

In years to come I’ll still see his dear face

As clearly as I’ve seen it on this day.’


‘He’s gone!’ cries Joseph at the empty tomb:

But Mary says, ‘He’s left a word for you:

He cannot rest content to be your past,

So he has risen to be your future too.’


Isaiah 43: 14, 18–19

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.


Hosea 6: 1–3

Come, let us return to the LORD; for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know, let us press on to know the LORD; his appearing is as sure as the dawn; he will come to us like the showers, like the spring rains that water the earth.

A collect from the eighth-century Gelasian Sacramentary


O God of unchangeable power and eternal light, look favourably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery, and by the tranquil operation of your perpetual providence, carry out the work of our salvation: and let the whole world feel and see that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are returning to perfection through him from whom they took their origin, even Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.




Dying you destroyed our death;

rising your restored our life;

Lord Jesus, come in glory.