Mar 30, 2024

N. T. Wright

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The day between Good Friday and Easter, Holy Saturday, is one of the most confusing days in the Christian calendar, situated halfway between the agony of Good Friday and the joy of Easter. Nothing much happened on that first Holy Saturday. Jesus’ body had already been laid in the tomb, and his disciples were left wondering what would happen next. Either Jesus’ words about being raised on the third day fell on deaf ears, or they couldn’t quite conceive of a resurrection until it happened. According to one New Testament letter, Jesus descended into Hades or hell “to preach to imprisoned spirits” (1 Peter 3.18-20). Your guess is as good as mine as to what it all means. Most everything that day took place underground and remained hidden from view. Holy Saturday amounted to a day of intense waiting for the disciples. God didn’t raise Jesus immediately from the cross. There are times when we must wait for God’s promises to reach fulfillment. You may find yourself caught somewhere between Good Friday and Easter, between despair and hope. Nicholas Thomas (N.T.) Wright (1948-) is an Anglican bishop and New Testament professor (also called Tom Wright in his New Testament for Everyone commentary series). Not only is N.T. a prodigious author, but he’s something of a poet. Teaming with composer Paul Spicer, Wright wrote the text for an Easter Oratorio that tells the story of Jesus’ resurrection from John 20-21. The opening chorus serves as a fitting meditation for Holy Saturday:

On the seventh day God restedin the darkness of the tomb;
Having finished on the sixth day
all his work of joy and doom.

Now the Word had fallen silent,
and the water had run dry;
The bread had all been scattered,
and the light had left the sky.

The flock had lost its shepherd,
and the seed was sadly sown,
The courtiers had betrayed their king,
and nailed him to his throne.
O Sabbath rest by Calvary,
O calm of tomb below,
Where the graveclothes and the spices,
cradle him we do not know.

Rest you well, beloved Jesus,
Caesar’s Lord and Israel’s King,
In the brooding of the Spirit,
in the darkness of the spring.

The chorus returns later in the oratorio to offer prayer for the risen Jesus to inhabit our in-between moments of despair and hope:

Come Lord Jesus, stand and bless
All our nights of hopelessness
With the dawn of life’s new day;
Without you, no fruit is borne,
Without you, the branch is torn,
Withered, useless, cast away.

Come Lord Jesus, bid us now
In the vine to live, and grow
Filled with life, and love, and power;
Send us, now that day is here,
Into darkness far and near
While the light of this new hour.

Easter Oratorio, translation by Tom Wright for a setting by Paul Spicer

Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.