We Shall Overcome – A Sermon On Matthew 27:57-66 For Holy Saturday

“Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.” (Matthew 27:57-66)

I know what that’s like and I’ll bet you do too. We’ve all had times in our life when we were “sitting opposite the tomb.” It’s a good description for this day we call Holy Saturday. 

Holy Saturday is the day after. It’s the day after the body of Jesus was laid in the tomb. It’s the day after the life you had, someone you loved, or a part of yourself died and was laid in the tomb. It’s the day after the loss. It’s the day after everything changed. You know what that’s like, don’t you? So do I.

On Holy Saturday not much happens. The liturgy is quiet, plain, and short. It lasts only about fifteen or twenty minutes. There are a few short readings, a homily, and a couple of prayers. We don’t sing today. There’s not much to say on Holy Saturday.

Look around at the church. It’s bleak and colorless. There are no decorations or candles. There’s no food, no bread and wine. And that’s okay, most of us don’t have much of an appetite anyway. The body and life are missing today. Gone. On Holy Saturday the church looks as empty and barren as life feels.

Holy Saturday is the day when we sit with our loss and realize again and again that it really did happen. This is not a nightmare from which we will awaken. This is our new reality, and it comes with all sorts of feelings: grief, sorrow, hurt, fear, despair, anger, guilt, shame. It usually leaves us tearful and exhausted. 

Holy Saturday is an in between day. What was is no longer and what will be is not yet. We not only wonder about what is next but if there will even be a next. That’s what Job asks in today’s Old Testament reading (Job 14:1-14), “If mortals die, will they live again? Holy Saturday is a day of ambiguity and not knowing.

What is your Holy Saturday today? What tomb are you sitting opposite of? What loss has brought you to this day? What are you feeling?

In the church Holy Saturday is only one day out of the year, but you know as well as I that’s not how Holy Saturday in life works. 

I used to think that my grief and losses would be replaced by joy and new life or that they would somehow be changed into joy and new life. But that’s never happened. Easter does not replace Good Friday, and Good Friday does not turn into Easter. 

I don’t think the losses and griefs of our Good Fridays ever go away, diminish, or no longer touch us. They’re always with us. Instead, I think that Easter, new life, grows around and becomes larger than the Good Friday losses. We are no longer chained to or imprisoned by our losses. We learn to live again, not apart from or in spite of our losses but with them. That’s what’s happening in the Holy Saturday of life. 

Take a look at The Apostles’ Creed on page 96 in the Book of Common Prayer. Where is Jesus today? “He descended to the dead.” He is with and raising up whoever or whatever you and I have laid in the tomb. The tomb is his “workshop of resurrection.”

And it’s so beautifully portrayed in the church’s iconography for this day. It’s called the Harrowing of Hell. It shows Jesus standing on the gates of hell, breaking the locks and chains of death, opening the tombs, and pulling Adam and Eve from their graves. It shows death tied up and defeated. 

On Holy Saturday we come to sit not just opposite the tomb but in opposition to the tomb. Holy Saturday is a sit in. We show up again and again with faith and hope to protest. Holy Saturday is our call to protest the “great stone” of death, trusting that someday, somehow, somewhere, “we shall overcome.”

Image Credit:The Harrowing of Hell / Anastasis” by jimforest is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.


  1. You have to write and email/publish something every day. I don’t know what that would mean for you, the strains something like that would put on you. I only know that today, on my walk, the meaning on today’s reading that I found on the usual website I go to help me with reflection (Bible is hard reading and even harder to understand for me) didn’t bring me joy. Yours did. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am always fed and cared for every time I open your email readings. You are God’s under-shepherd for so many of us . . . providing nourishing, appetizing, whole, life-sustaining, spiritual food.

    Liked by 2 people

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