• Holy Week: Chapter 7: Saturday in Holy Week

    by  • 10 April 2020 • Extract, Holy Week, Religion, The Christian Community • 1 Comment

    Here at Floris Books, we want to do all we can to support our community during these difficult times. To that end, we’re sharing a new chapter of Emil Bock’s Holy Week: A Spiritual Guide from Palm Sunday to Easter for every day of the 2020 Easter Holy Week. Check back each day for the latest entry.

    Holy Week will guide you from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. It will help bring the events of Easter alive, and provides opportunities for prayer and contemplation. Each day is accompanied by a gospel reading.

    As a special thank you for joining us throughout the week, we are also offering 20% discount on copies of the book when you order from our website. Simply enter special offer code HW0420 at checkout.

    John 19:28–41

    The death

    (28) After this Jesus perceived in spirit: Everything is now nearing its goal and fulfilment, and, so that the word of scripture should be accomplished, he said, ‘I thirst.’ (29) There was a jar of vinegar standing there. And they soaked a sponge in vinegar, fixed it around a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. (30) And when Jesus had taken the vinegar, he said, ‘It has been fulfilled.’ Then he bowed his head and breathed out his spirit.

    (31) Since it was the Day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies to remain on the cross, for that Sabbath was a great festival day. So they asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they should be taken down from the cross. (32) And so the soldiers came and broke the legs of first the one, and then the other, who had been crucified with him. (33) When they came to Jesus and saw that he had already died, they did not break his legs. (34) But one of the soldiers thrust a lance in his side, and at once blood and water flowed out. (35) He who saw it has testified to it, and his testimony is true. And he knows that he is speaking the truth, so that you also may find the way of faith. (36) All this happened so that the scripture should be fulfilled:

    His bones shall not be broken

    (37) and also the other place in the scriptures:

    They shall look on him whom they have pierced.

    The burial

    (38) Then Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate and asked him for permission to take down the body of Jesus from the cross. He was a disciple of Jesus, but kept it secret for fear of the Jews. Pilate gave him permission. And so he came and took down the body. (39) Nicodemus came also, who had first come to Jesus in the realm of night, and he brought about a hundred pounds of a mixture of myrrh and aloes. (40) And they took the body of Jesus and wrapped it in strips of linen soaked with the balsam spices, according to the burial custom of the Jews. (41) At the place of the crucifixion there was a garden, and in the garden there was a new tomb where no one had ever been buried.

    Saturday in Holy Week

    The body of the Christ has been laid in the tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea. Saturnine heaviness hangs in the air and the meaning of Saturn’s day is fulfilled. It has always been the custom of the Sabbath, as Saturn’s day, for the adherents of the Old Covenant to observe it as a strictly ordained day of death-like rest. Today is the Sabbath of all Sabbaths. It is as though a fighter had gone into a dark cavern to overcome a dragon. Will he return victoriously to the light of day?

    In the dark midday hour of the previous day, when Christ on the cross bowed his head and expired, the veil of the Temple ‘was torn in two.’ Vistas were opened into the interior of the world. Archetypal pictures formed themselves in the saturnine twilight. Table and Cross summarize the events of the last two days. Now the Tomb is added as a third archetypal symbol.

    From times immemorial tombs also served as altars; all divine worship proceeded originally from the worship of the dead. People went to the tombs when they wished to commune with the gods. The souls of the departed were intermediaries between men and the gods, for since the souls of the dead could appear at the tombs, other dwellers in the spiritual world could also be met there. This was so in far-distant ages, when death was still the brother of sleep and as yet had no terrifying power over humanity. Men were not so hopelessly bound to the substance of the earthly body during physical life. So after death they were not so separated from the plane of earth. The communion of the earthly world with the spiritual world still happened like breathing in and breathing out.

    In the course of millennia man entered deeper and deeper into embodiment. The more he united with earthly substance, the less was it possible for him to remain in connection with the earth after death. The gap between ‘here’ and ‘there’ became increasingly difficult to bridge. Existence after death became, as is said in the First Epistle of Peter, a prison. Humanity was in danger of being deprived of immortality, of consciousness enduring beyond death. In the realm of the dead the souls were spellbound in a state of numbness. When the Egyptians mummified their dead and prayed before the embalmed bodies, they expressed their urgent desire to hold fast to the ancient conditions. It was an attempt, despite the ever-widening gulf, to unite the souls of men with the bodily remains of earthly life. But the downward trend of destiny could not be checked and, as the pre-Christian centuries advanced, dread of death took hold of humanity. The Greek world is filled with horror of the realm of the dead; in the Old Testament the idea of immortality fades away altogether. A great religious current arose without a certainty of immortal life, and the belief of living on in one’s descendants took its place.

    Yet in the pre-Christian centuries souls did not live nearly so heavily in the body as they do today. Hence those who were living on earth felt the tragic fate brought on by death as an oppressive burden. Though people still went to the tombs, the souls no longer came, and the gods were absent from the altars. The feeling of anxiety in pre-Christian times derived far less from external conditions than from distress of soul. The earth seemed a parched land that had had no rain for a long time. Death became a terrifying spectre. This feeling lay at the root of the expectation of the Messiah which inspired all the peoples of pre-Christian times.

    It was now between Holy Saturday and Easter. The body had been taken from the cross and laid in the grave. Providence ordained that cross and grave should stand on a spot which thousands of years before had been experienced as the centre of the earth. Between the rocky hill of Golgotha, which is a continuation of the lunar Mount Moriah, and the grave with its surrounding garden on Mount Zion, there was formerly a primal fissure in the earth’s surface.* Ancient humanity saw in this the grave of Adam: here for the first time humanity was overcome by death. And so from very ancient times this primeval gorge, which splits Jerusalem into two parts, was believed to be the gate of the underworld. In this place the cross was erected and there today the Church of the Holy Sepulchre stands.

    * From the first to the fourth gospel the text contains an ever clearer revelation of the secret of Gethsemane. The first two gospels say only ‘Jesus came with the disciples to a place called Gethsemane.’ We assume that it was merely some unfamiliar spot. In Luke the text takes a new turn: ‘And he left the house and went to the Mount of Olives as was his custom. And the disciples followed him.’ It is not just any road, but one which leads to a spot where Jesus had often stayed. John’s Gospel brings the full revelation: ‘After these words Jesus left the house with his disciples and crossed over the Kidron brook. On the other side there was a garden which he and his disciples entered. This place was also known to Judas who betrayed him; for Jesus had often gathered his disciples around him there.’ (18:1–2). Gethsemane is thus a place where esoteric instruction had been given to the disciples. The olive grove reached to the summit of the Mount of Olives. It was also the scene of the Little Apocalypse on the Tuesday evening of Passion week.

    When now we try once more to find the inner aspect of events, it is as though the veil was rent before another sphere. The realm of the shades opens. In the saturnine darkness of this sphere an unexpected light is kindled. He who died upon the cross has entered the kingdom of the dead. One has come who is not subject to the magic compulsion of death, One who is free of all that dulls and deadens. He carries through death the full glory of his genius; and while on earth the dark Sabbath of the grave prevails, in the realm of the dead the sun rises. This is the meaning of Christ’s descent into hell. In the kingdom of the departed a glimmer of hope lit up. The spell of death was loosened, and the prospect opened towards a future victory of the human soul over the spell of the underworld. While it was still Holy Saturday on earth, it was already Easter in the kingdom of the dead.

    At the moment of Christ’s death on Good Friday the earthquake began and it was still rumbling in the early hours of Easter morning. It did not cease fully all through Holy Saturday, though the powers of nature may have adapted themselves to the spell of the silence of the grave which belongs to this day. Rudolf Steiner has imparted from his spiritual investigations a certain fact which may be hard to accept, but which could be verified from a knowledge of the geological secrets which lie in the soil of Jerusalem. As a cosmic climax to the Mystery of Golgotha, the earthquake tore open again the original fissure which had been filled in the time of Solomon. And thus the whole earth became the grave of the Christ. The earth took deep into herself the Host that was administered to her. When with the words of the creed as it is used in the Christian Community, we express the event of Holy Saturday, ‘He was lowered into the grave of the earth,’ we touch upon the cosmic aspect of the Mystery of Golgotha. It was the physical body and the physical blood of the human being, Jesus of Nazareth, which was the medicine received by the earth. The sacramental stream which has gone through humanity henceforward is linked to Easter.

    It has been a right and valid principle that in all parts of the Christian Church altars have always been formed in the likeness of a tomb. Also the altars of the renewed sacrament in the Christian Community have the form of a tomb. And when the members of the congregation are assembled round them, the principle of Holy Saturday is always present. We are the ones waiting round the sacred sepulchre, and at the table and tomb of the Lord our dead can also draw near again. Those who have inwardly united themselves in life with the renewed sacrament can assuredly after death find their way to this tomb more easily than to their own graves. Souls no longer have any intensive relation to the cast-off body. But when we are assembled round the altar, they can be in our midst, and thereby strengthen our relationship to the spiritual world. The new altars are surrounded with the same play of archetypal pictures as was once the grave in the precincts of the garden on Mount Zion. The gulf is closed between this world and the other. The Easter garden begins to bloom in which our soul, like Mary Magdalene, can behold the Risen One as the gardener of a new world. The darkness of Saturn is lit up from within by the sun of Easter.

    Continue to Chapter 8: Easter Joy & The Fourfold Gospel

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