Awaiting the Eighth Day
A sermon for Holy Saturday
April 8, 2023
The Rev. Mark Nabors, Vicar
Readings: Matthew 27:57-66
How can we understand what is happening today? Truth be told, we come to the edge of words. God in the flesh has been killed in the most godless way, on the most irreligious tool of torture. There was no legion of angels at the last minute, no sleight of hand. He is dead: laid in the arms of his mother, and then taken to a tomb nearby.
One ancient homily tells us what is going on. I usually read that homily today. Probably written by Melito in the first centuries of the church, it expounds on what we read from I Peter. Christ, after death, has descended to hell, to the dead, in order to bring the captives–that is, those who died before–up from their graves and into the newness of life. But if you and I were to enter the tomb today, we would still see the body of Jesus lying there, unrecognizable. He would be cold. He would be stiff. He would stink from decay and from the humiliating ordeal of crucifixion. Lifeless. How can we, on this side of the veil of death, understand this?
Our collect today says he is resting on the Sabbath. We are meant to see in these holy days a parallel to the story of creation in Genesis 1. We will read that story tonight. In the creation account in Genesis 1, we see a seven-day creation. On day six, God creates humankind, male and female, in his image. On the seventh day, God rests and calls his creation very good.
In coming to earth to take on our flesh, Christ, God in the flesh, has entered into a project of re-creation: the re-creation of humanity and the entire cosmos. Once in the image and likeness of God, we have been marred by sin and death, and creation along with us. Christ has come to “more wonderfully restore the dignity of human nature,” to bring us back to that first image, to bring us back to our first purpose: relationship with God, one another, and all creation. Thereby, as we sang last night, earth and stars and sky and ocean are freed from that ancient stain of our doing.
God in Christ makes that re-creation of humanity possible on the sixth day of this Holy Week, on Good Friday, hanging on the cross, defeating the power of sin and death. It costs God dearly. And then, like in Genesis one, on the seventh day he rests from all that he has made–all that he has made possible through this sacrifice. And he calls it very good, indeed. That is what is happening in the stillness of the tomb.
We, of course, do not stop on this seventh day. We know this is not the end. Vindication is coming. The Resurrection, which we will proclaim tonight, inaugurates a new day, a new age. The dawning of the Resurrection takes us to, not the first day of the week recycled, but to the eighth day of a new age. Indeed, early Christians called Sunday the eighth day–a day in time and yet out of time, a day that is the sign of the fullness of life to come, a sign of our hope in Christ, a participation in eternity. Here at St. Alban’s, it should be no surprise that our baptismal font and our columbarium are eight-sided.
On this sabbath day, this seventh day, we rest with Jesus, in thanksgiving for our new creation that his body and blood have made possible from the cross on the sixth day. And we remember that the eighth day, the day of hope, of new life, of the new age, of eternity, is drawing near.
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