Holy Saturday: The Great Silence

By Taylor Burton-Edwards

This is not the kind of silence one creates by "emptying oneself" (as if that were even actually possible). This is the silence into which we find ourselves knocked when terrible news arrives. This is the silence that those who have grieved deeply have come to know, and at once dread and welcome.

This is the silence of the tomb, or perhaps more accurately, the silence from the tomb. This is the silence that grabs us, if we are paying attention at all, when we contemplate the aftermath of the crucifixion.

This is what Holy Saturday has been about for centuries in the liturgical life of the Church. It is this silence, embodied in an assembly. It is the ultimate silence. The horror of the execution and our role in it was the day before. Facing the violence head on as we do and must on Good Friday also tends to move us into a kind of alternate reality removed from the usual patterns of our lives and thoughts. We can be tricked into thinking it was all just a horrible dream.

But on this day, on Holy Saturday, there is no question left. There was real horror. And the real horror took its real toll. Jesus is dead, buried in a tomb. On Holy Saturday, this reality sinks in.

And so on this day we gather in that silence. Everything we say or do in liturgy springs from that silence and returns to it. That silence-- crushing, undeniable, and at times unspeakable.

Just as we do the story of our redemption harm if we skip from Palm Sunday processionals straight to Easter, so we lessen its formative power in our lives if we move from the cross at mid-day on Friday straight to the Great Vigil of Saturday night or the Easter trumpets or Sunrise Service on Sunday morning without making the stop, together, in this silence.

For whatever reasons, the lectionary in The United Methodist Book of Worship did not include the Revised Common Lectionary readings for Holy Saturday. The Book of Worship does include one collect for Holy Saturday, borrowed from the Book of Common Prayer (BOW 367).

So here is a proposed service for our use, however you may assemble on this day, in face to face or in virtual communities. It is designed with responses short enough to fit within Twitter's 140 character limit.

I will offer this service via Twitter this Holy Saturday, March 31, at 10 AM Eastern Daylight Time. You may follow it at the hashtag #holysat18. If others wish to do so at other times or places, I would be delighted for you to do so. Just use the same hashtag.

The Twitter script, with the #holysat18 hashtag included for each tweet, may be downloaded for use in worship services via Twitter or other online platforms.

And so, may we keep the Great Silence.

All stand. Silent procession of worship leader (lay or clergy) carrying a Bible to the lectern or holding it in the midst of the people.

Leader: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you. #holysat18

Let us pray:
O God, creator of heaven and earth:
The crucified body of your dear Son lay in the tomb on this holy Sabbath. #holysat18

So may we await with him the coming of the third day,
and rise with him to newness of life.
Amen. #holysat18

First Reading
Audio: http://twbe.webs.com/holysatreading1.mp3

The Psalm (NRSV)
31:1 In you, O LORD, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me. #holysat18

31:2 Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me. #holysat18

31:3 You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name's sake lead me and guide me, #holysat18

31:4 take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge. #holysat18

31:15 My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. #holysat18

31:16 Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love. #holysat18

(Silence for two minutes)

A Reading from I Peter
Audio http://twbe.webs.com/holysatreading2.mp3

The Gospel of Our Lord according to Matthew
Audio http://twbe.webs.com/holysatreading3.mp3

Let us pray for the church and the world.

R: Hear our silent prayers, O God.

For the leaders and mission of your church in every place… (Response) #holysat18

With all that lives and moves upon the earth, and all that sustains our lives… R... #holysat18

For every leader and with all who work for justice, freedom, and peace… R… #holysat18

With all who labor and for the fruits of their work… R… #holysat18

With all who are sick, imprisoned, lonely, tortured, or terrorized, and all who remember and care for them… R … #holysat18

For all who are born this day, and all who will die… #holysat18

With all who have commended themselves to our prayers, especially… R… #holysat18

We pray as Jesus taught us…

The Lord’s Prayer (aloud in your first language) #holysat18


Leader: Go in peace.

People: Amen. PBWY. #holysat18

Copyright © 2017 The General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church. Individuals and congregations are free to use this resource for worship using Twitter or other online social media platforms provided you include this complete copyright citation. When you have done so, please notify the copyright holder at [email protected].