A Meditation From Pastor Neil
Holy Saturday is a limbo day, neither this nor that. It is a transition sandwiched between Good Friday and the ensuing Easter Vigil that occurs after sundown on Saturday. That does not imply that nothing is happening. Holy Saturday’s ancient name, The Harrowing of Hell, has virtually fallen from public memory. Harrowing is an old English word meaning, to ravage, seize, or plunder. Jesus is plundering hell to bring salvation even to those who have died throughout time immemorial. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harrowing_of_Hell) Ephesians 4:9 asserts, “When it says, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean, but that he had also (first) descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens.”
The roots of this commemoration go back to the beginning centuries of Christianity, although the Church of England, in the late medieval period started taking Holy Saturday more seriously. Jesus’ descent into hell became the subject of art, poetry, and theatre. The more that I have meditated on this day, the more importance I believe this feast deserves our attention and reflection. Particularly this year, at an uncharted point between the beginning and the end of this pandemic.
The great Easter Vigil begins in pitch darkness. People gather in silence. The ministers quietly file in. A flint is struck to light a single candle, the Pascal Candle. The long, solo chanted, mysterious Exultate is sung, with words that yoke the night with the glory of Easter Sun: “This is the night that with a pillar of fire banished the darkness of sin. … This is the night when Christ broke the prison bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld.” The path from desolation into blazing glory. Awake, arise, and live in the light.
Let us pray. Almighty God, we pray you to graciously and mercifully behold us, your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ suffered and died as a human being like us. In his example, give us the strength and open hearts to take upon our shoulders the needs of the world and people close at hand. Jesus now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, as will we all. One God, forever and ever. Amen.
A reading from the Divine Office of Daily Monastic Prayers, n Ancient Sermon to be contemplated on Holy Saturday
Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light. I am your God, who for your sake has become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise.
I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake, In your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth.
For your sake, for the sake of humanity, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.
Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. … The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.
From Psalm 31
In you, O Lord, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me.
Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me.
You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me,
take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge.
Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.
A Reading from 1st Peter, at the 4th chapter: Exhorting Discipline for the Sake of Our Prayers
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin), so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God. You have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry.
They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme. But they will have to give an accounting to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.
The end of all things is near; therefore, be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.
A Confession of Our Sins to God
God of all mercy, we confess that we have sinned against you, opposing your will in our lives. We have denied your goodness in each other, in ourselves, and in the world you have created. We repent of the evil that enslaves us, the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf. Forgive, restore, and strengthen us through our Savior Jesus Christ, that we may abide in your love and serve only your will. Amen.
Almighty God have mercy on us ☩, forgive us all our sins, and
through the grace of Jesus Christ, strengthen us in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep us in eternal life. Amen.
Prayers of the People
O God of compassion, the giver of life and health, we pray your healing mercies upon all who are in any way affected by the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Comfort and sustain those who have been stricken; relieve their pain and restore to them your gifts of gladness and strength. Grant to all in authority the courage to make wise decisions that are essential for the common good and strengthen them to lead institutions that care for those whom they serve. Watch over all first responders and those in the medical professions whose duty it is to care for the sick; guard them from all danger, and keep them safe in the knowledge that is through their sacrifice and service that the health of the whole community is promoted. Mercifully accept these our prayers, O God of all comfort, and our only help in time of need. Amen.
God of the present moment,
God who in Jesus stills the storm
and soothes the frantic heart;
bring hope and courage to all
who wait or work in uncertainty.
Bring hope that you will make them the equal
of whatever lies ahead.
Bring them courage to endure what cannot be avoided,
for your will is health and wholeness;
you are God, and we need you. Amen.
Adapted from New Zealand Prayer Book
In calling forth creation from the void, God, you revealed yourself in human form. You manifest your concern for your whole universe. Hear the world’s needs, as we bring the matters of our hearts before you.
Pour out your life-giving Spirit on your holy church throughout the world and equip its members to boldly proclaim their common faith and your bountiful blessings across the earth. Lord, in your mercy: Hear our prayer.
Let your Spirit move over our unruly time and heal its people broken in spirit and body. Bring peace to a weary and struggling world. Protect Mother Earth from human neglect. Lord, in your mercy: Hear our prayer.
Burn out all that is evil in us; consecrate us for holy service and empower us to work toward the salvation of the world. Give us energy and insight for the mission. Lord, in your mercy: Hear our prayer.
Renew the faith of all those who call you Lord, so that we may devote ourselves to worship, teaching, and prayer—all to reveal your grace, mercy, and healing to a fragile humanity. Give noble purpose to our secular leaders—particularly in this time of crisis, confusion, and fear—and a desire to do justice in the land and in the world. Lord, in your mercy: Hear our prayer.
Be with those who are dying and ill, and their families and loved ones. Bless the pastoral ministries of this congregation. Safeguard immigrants and refugees. Provide solace and healing to those beleaguered by hurricanes, floods, and fires, viruses, and any other human and personal calamities. Lord, in your mercy: Hear our prayer.
We especially pray for those we name now… (please add your petitions). Lord, in your mercy: Hear our prayer.
Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Loving God, we give you thanks for restoring us in your image and nourishing us with spiritual food in the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood. Now send us forth a people forgiven, healed, renewed; that we may proclaim your love to the world and continue in the risen life of Christ our Savior. Amen.
Sisters and brothers, when we go out into the world in peace, we live and walk as part of God’s beloved community. May God help us all to be of good courage, hold on to what is good, return to no one an evil for an evil. Strengthen the faint-hearted, support the weak, aid the suffering, do justice and hope, honor all people, and let our gentleness be known by everyone. May God, who raised our Lord Jesus from death, lift us up and restore us to wholeness. And may God bless us all, ☩ in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Amen.