What Have You Laid In The Tomb? – A Holy Saturday Sermon On John 19:38-42

Harrowing of Hell, Resurrection, Death, Holy Saturday, Tomb, Entombment of Christ, John 19:38-42
By Markos Bathas (1498-1578) Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43222896

Holy Saturday – John 19:38-42

“They laid Jesus there,” in the tomb (John 19:42). At one level that’s a literal-historical statement of what happened next. At another level it’s about you and me. We’ve all come to the tomb. We’ve laid in the tomb our family and friends, loves, hopes, dreams, relationships, parts of our selves and our lives. I wonder, what have you laid in the tomb this Holy Week? This past year? 

Holy Saturday is another hard day. It feels so stark and empty. “They laid Jesus there.” That’s it. That’s how today’s gospel ends. There’s no conversation. There’s nothing else to do. Sure, we know the third day will come. But when you are at the tomb three days might as well be 3000 days. At the tomb there is only the silence and the nothingness standing between what was and what will be. I’m guessing you know what that’s like. You’ve been there. 

So where is our hope on the Holy Saturdays of life? I suspect it is present to us only in fleeting glimpses, in small details, in veiled possibilities that are easy to miss. So I want to take another look, a closer look at today’s gospel. I think it’s telling us that something, even on this day at the tomb, is already beginning to happen.

  • Joseph of Arimathea, a secret disciple, comes out to Pilate. In asking for the body of Jesus he surely was declaring his loyalty to Jesus. The secret is no more. And what about Nicodemus? He was the nighttime disciple who now steps out into the light of day. He helped Joseph remove the body from the cross. He no longer hides under the cover of darkness. They are different men. Their lives have been changed. They are new men. How did this happen? What got into them?
  • The gospel references the body three times. Joseph asks for “the body of Jesus.” He and Nicodemus remove “the body.” They took “the body of Jesus” and wrapped it with species in the linen cloths. It’s a body until it is laid in the tomb. Then it’s Jesus. “They laid Jesus there.” He’s named. He’s a person, not an object. Maybe it was just out of respect that they called him by name. Or maybe it’s more than that. What do you think this might be pointing to?
  • Jesus is laid in “a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.” Wonder if there is a connection between the virginal womb of Jesus’ birth and the virginal tomb where he is laid. Might the new tomb also be a new womb?
Harrowing of Hell, Resurrection, Death, Holy Saturday, Tomb, Entombment of Christ, John 19:38-42
By Markos Bathas (1498-1578) Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons 

Something is happening on the Holy Saturdays of our lives. And it’s so beautifully portrayed in the church’s iconography of this day. It’s called the Harrowing of Hell. And it shows Jesus breaking the locks and chains of death, opening the tombs, and pulling Adam and Eve from their graves. It shows death hogtied and defeated. 

And if you want one more reminder of what is happening this day. Take a look at The Apostles’ Creed on page 96 in the Book of Common Prayer. Where is Jesus? “He descended to the dead.” Or read Rite 1 on page 53. “He descended into hell.” He is raising up whoever or whatever you have laid in the tomb. 

“They laid him the tomb,” and something is happening. 



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